ALBANY - Gov. David Paterson attacked runaway spending, monied lobbyists and political corruption in his State of the State address Wednesday, and the state legislators in the audience gave his speech perhaps the most unenthusiastic reception in recent history.
With the backdrop of an election year, high profile corruption charges against a former legislative leader and skyrocketing projected budget deficits, Paterson launched his first volley of the New Year at legislators.
Albany insiders are calling Paterson's speech antagonistic posturing and an attempt to boost his sagging poll numbers by attacking the equally unpopular legislative houses.
Legislators gave a notably cool reception to his speech, which included strong new ethics reform and a warning that he wouldn't write checks for state aid if the state was spending money they didn't have.
The scene at the state Capital had its curious political overtones.
Although the state Senate and Assembly are both dominated by Paterson's fellow Democrats, many of the proposals he presented - especially an ethics reform package released just before the address - received applause and ovation only from Assembly Republicans.
"We must address the chronic abuse of power," he said. "Chronic and continuing experiences of outside influence and inside decay have bred cynicism and scorn amongst the people we represent."
The Reform Albany Act would require legislators to disclose outside earnings, while imposing term limits and reducing the allowed amount of campaign contributions.
It would also abolish the current ethics oversight committee composed of legislators and create an independent commission with oversight jurisdiction over elected officials.
Imposing term limits on legislators would require an amendment to the State Constitution, an action that the governor said he intends to pursue.
Paterson argued that lobbyists are driving decisions in Albany by throwing money at legislators and essentially robbing the public of fair and open representation.
And he didn't hesitate to take a shot or two at special interests, many of whom were in attendance.
"The monied interest, many of them here today as guests, have got to understand that their days of influence in this Capitol are numbered. They have routinely demanded special treatment without any regard for others," he said. "The reality is, that there is no moral high ground in trampling on other to get there and there is nothing lower than engaging in the currency of influence to the detriment of other New Yorkers that don't have the same representation."
Local officials have repeatedly alleged that green groups wield far too much influence over the Adirondack Park Agency.
Late last month, former GOP Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno was convicted of two counts of corruption after using his staff and influence to the benefit of political backers.
If adopted, Paterson's ethics reform package would strip elected officials convicted of felonies while in office of their pensions.
Paterson's proposed ethics reform proposals closely mirror the wants of minority Republicans, some of whom have been touring the state promoting a state Constitutional convention and calling for similar reforms.
Democratic legislative leaders have said they intend to fight some of the ethics reforms, particularly term limits.
Paterson's scathing criticism of the legislature didn't end with ethical violations.
Paterson blasted representatives for forcing his hand over the last months, and falling short in adequately closing a $3.2 billion budget deficit.
In 2010-2011 the state Office of the Budget is predicting a deficit of between $7 billion and $9 billion.
And he reminded legislators that he is more than willing to do it alone if he must.
"The governor will exercise authority to prevent this state from going into default," he said. "You have left me with no choice, so whether be it by veto or delayed spending, I will not write bad checks and I will not mortgage out children's futures."
Paterson has been blasted by the education lobby and school administrators for withholding 10 percent of aid payments in mid-December.
His agenda includes a 4 percent cap on state spending increases and the creation of the Excelsior Program, a replacement for the defunct and often-abused Empire Program.
The Excelsior Program would provide tax incentives and startup cash for businesses in the clean energy and high tech sectors. The Governor's Office estimates that the program could create as many as 50,000 jobs over the next decade.
Taking yet another play from the GOP handbook, Paterson called for state agency consolidation and mandate relief for local governments.
In 2009-2010, New York will spend around $43 billion on Medicaid, most of which is in reimbursement to the counties for mandated programs.
Governor's Office spokesman Morgan Hook said Wednesday that Paterson is considering slashing Medicaid funds and school aid in an attempt to balance the upcoming budget. But Go.O.P. state Sen. Betty Little said if Paterson wants to point fingers at who is responsible for the current budget meltdown, he should do it while looking in the mirror.
"Last year's budget was a killer that raised taxes by a record amount. I voted against it, and it is good to hear others who voted for it recognize their error, but it won't be enough to hold the line on taxes this year," Little said.
When it comes to ethics reform, Little and Paterson are more closely aligned.
"Cleaning up Albany with an ethics bill that has teeth would restore some confidence in this institution," Little said. "Clear lines need to be drawn, there needs to be more accountability and transparency, and when an elected official violates the public trust the penalty has to be real and serve as a deterrent."
Senate Republicans are calling Paterson a hypocrite and citing that he promised last year to hold the line on taxes, but followed that pledge with an executive budget featuring numerous tax hikes and new fees.