New York Governor-designate David Paterson offered reassurances and indicated he wasn't looking to make major changes in the state's budget, which he must shepherd to a March 31 deadline.
Paterson, currently lieutenant governor, will be sworn in as governor on Monday following Gov. Eliot Spitzer's resignation amid a prostitution scandal.
"There may be a five-day transition period but we are hard at work at this moment putting together a budget that will help New York to thrive," Paterson said at a news conference. "We cannot afford to waste another second. We have a budget that's due and a deadline to meet."
Paterson, who served in the state Senate for 21 years, said he was meeting with all the top elected officials and would be holding meetings over the weekend in his office to begin "hammering out details" on the budget.
Both the Senate and Assembly have passed their own versions of the state budget which must close a $4.42 billion budget gap. Spitzer proposed a $124.3 billion executive budget in January.
Paterson said in a radio interview yesterday that he had not been involved in the budget process so far. He said that any changes he could make to the executive budget should be viewed as "an evolution of a philosophy that we shared when we decided to run together" rather than a critique of Spitzer's budget.
Paterson said that he believed in a promise made by Spitzer not to raise personal income taxes, but he didn't rule it out.
"We don't want to raise personal income taxes," Paterson said. "We are looking at a recession and I think a stock market that's in flux, our major investment houses under siege, our banks in a sense borrowing from other countries. We have a huge economic problem in this country."
Paterson said he hoped the issue of raising personal income taxes would not become an issue in the near future. He was also noncommittal on a congestion pricing plan, aimed at collecting tolls from drivers driving in the heart of Manhattan, that would provide revenues to for New York City, and that proponents have said could back $4.5 billion of bonds for transportation projects to market.
Paterson said he was still waiting for a report on putting a cap on property taxes before he would make a decision on whether or not a cap could work.
"The question wasn't whether or not there was a will, it was whether there was a way," he said.
The lieutenant governor did not announce any major staffing changes and observers said it's unlikely he will before the budget is passed.
Ron Rock, a principal at the lobbying firm Brown McMahon & Weinraub LLC and a former deputy state budget director who has worked with Paterson, said that the state's next governor was "an extremely quick study."
Rock said that his firm's clients, which include Goldman, Sachs & Co., had been shocked by the events that brought down Spitzer, but that everyone just wanted to get back to business and see a smooth transition. He that even with the disruption in the budget process and on time budget was still possible.
"With Gov. Paterson's relationships with both sides of the aisle I think it's a very doable thing," Rock said.