Sunday, June 24, 2007

NY Gov: State Senate stalls reform, seeks more pay

NY Gov: State Senate stalls reform, seeks more pay

ALBANY, New York (Reuters) - New York Democratic Gov. Eliot Spitzer on Friday bashed the GOP-led Senate for blocking reforms on everything from clean air to campaign finance, and vowed to keep playing hardball despite criticism of his style.

His Republican opponent, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, in a statement, blamed Spitzer for letting the Legislature's session end on Thursday in "a whimper" despite its promising start.

Spitzer's fellow Democrat, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, said: "If I were offering suggestions, it would be for everybody involved in the process, that cooler heads prevail and substantive dialogue is what will produce a greater result."

One key issue left open was Mayor Michael Bloomberg's bid to fight gridlock by discouraging Manhattan commuters from driving by charging an $8-per-car fee on weekdays from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Spitzer, eager to burnish his reputation as a reformer, also sought to strengthen the oversight of public authorities, which control billions of dollars of spending and bonding, and curb how much cities spend on construction by cutting the number of contracts they must sign for each project.

Other bills would have streamlined rules for choosing new power plant locations and made much better use of as much as $1 billion of state tax credits for cleaning up 54 brownfields, which are old and polluted industrial sites, Spitzer said.

Asked by Albany reporters if he was to blame for some of the impasse, Spitzer referred to his campaign promise that everything changes on "Day One" of his January swearing-in.

"What changed is that there is an energy, a determination, a will, a grit of resolve, and we're not going to quit."


Promising to travel the state to make his case, Spitzer slammed senators for voting themselves a pay raise and approving nearly $500 million of pork barrel spending.

Bruno has fiercely objected to Spitzer's open support for Democrats in legislative races.

"We don't target people or senators," the governor said.

Releasing a list of the session's achievements, which he said included an historic 10 percent increase in school aid, Spitzer added: "We're going to play hardball when it comes to getting the bills passed to do the people's business."

New York's mayor, now an independent, soared above the partisan clashes on his Friday WABC radio show, saying he hoped Bruno and the Democratic speaker will enact a so-called congestion pricing bill by a July 16 federal funding deadline.

The Senate wanted to create a commission to study the congestion-pricing plan. Bruno wanted the Senate, the Assembly, the governor and the mayor to all share control of $380 million a year in new revenue from the congestion fee.

In contrast, Bloomberg wanted to rule that spending.

Silver, as often is the case, has not said whether he backs Bloomberg's plan, one of the mayor's 127 Earth Day initiatives. On Friday, the speaker said he will review whether the fees should vary with the time of day and whether the mayor or the state mass transit agency should control the fee revenue.

Another issue is who should pay more -- city dwellers or suburbanites, who could deduct the city fees from their bridge and tunnel tolls, Silver said.

"I'm sure that the Senate will look for a significant portion of any money raised under the mayor's plan to go to the Long Island Rail Road," he added.

Long Island has long been a Republican base.

The Senate's Republican leader, blasting Spitzer's aides for booting one of his staffers from the governor's news conference, said: "It's unfortunate that the governor continues to bully and threaten in an attempt to get his way."

Bruno also called Spitzer's push to slash campaign contributions "his singular pursuit of an issue that no one cares about."

An Assembly spokesman could not immediately say whether the house adjourned before authorizing $1.4 billion of tax-exempt bonds for local development projects.