Amid gloomy economic news, New York Gov. David Paterson yesterday called for investing in renewable energy and conservation in his first state of the state speech.

The program, called "45 by 15," would set a goal of meeting 45% of the state's electricity needs through renewable energy and energy conservation by 2015. The program would be financed through a surcharge to utility bills.

It wasn't clear at press time whether the program would using bonding or would be pay as you go. Additionally, Paterson called for the creation of a consortium to do research and development on hybrid electric batteries and energy storage technology that could be used in electric cars. The consortium would utilize programs in partnership with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

Paterson repeated oft-made statements about the need for action to close the state's gaping budget deficit that has opened up as the nation entered recession and the financial industry staggered.

"The state of our state is perilous," Paterson said. "New York faces an historic economic challenge, the gravest in nearly a century."

Last month, he released his budget proposal five weeks before the statutory deadline. That proposal would slash spending and raise revenue through taxes and fees to close a $1.7 billion deficit in the current fiscal year and a $13.7 billion deficit in fiscal 2010, while capital spending and borrowing would increase. The state's fiscal year begins on April 1.

Paterson has argued against imposing a new tax on high-income individuals, alternately stating that it would drive wealthy New Yorkers out of the state or that such a tax was a tool that should be used only as a last resort. But Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, hinted yesterday the "millionaires tax" could be on the table.

"As we work to pass a fair, balanced, and on-time budget, we will ensure that the burden of addressing the current crisis does not fall disproportionately onto the backs of New York's working families, but there is no way to sugarcoat the situation," Silver said.

Also yesterday, a new power dynamic began to take shape as Malcolm Smith, D-Queens, took control of the state Senate, giving Democrats control over the Legislature and governorship.

New York Republican State Committee chairman Joseph Mondello said in a press release that the governor's proposals were a "recipe for economic disaster" and called for spending and tax cuts.

"By calling for dramatic increases in taxes and ever-higher state spending, the governor seems set on driving our state right over the cliff into the abyss of unprecedented fiscal meltdown," Mondello said. "State government has no choice but to meet this unprecedented crisis by immediately beginning to unsnarl and unravel the vast state bureaucracy, rein in the ever-expanding network of entitlement programs, and enact deep and across the board cuts in state spending."

Paterson also called on the Legislature to pass the recommendations of a state commission to help fund the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's operating and capital needs.

The commission, headed by former MTA chairman Richard Ravitch, in December proposed a payroll tax and tolling certain bridges.

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