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The state budget will have a political cost as well

   The most challenging fiscal crisis since, as Gov. David Paterson likes to say, the Great Depression has been answered by the governor and legislative leaders. Today, the rank-and-file lawmakers get to go on the record and take a stand.

   It will be a good day, at least for some Democrats, to be in the Assembly.

   In the Assembly, there is plenty of breathing room for Democrats to be given "a pass" by legislative leaders to vote no on unpopular bills. The Democrats control the house 109 to 41 over the Republicans.

   So a handful of Democrats were already talking of voting no on one or more of the nine budget bills when they hit the floor today. Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte, a Niagara Falls Democrat, said she could not vote for a bill that contains an increase in energy utility taxes of nearly $600 million.

   Now, go over to the Senate. The Democrats took control in January of the 62-member chamber after seven decades of GOP dominance. But there are only 32 of them and 30 Republicans. Worse yet, there is no margin. If one Democrat votes no on a bill and all Republicans vote no, that makes it 31-31. Ordinarily, the lieutenant governor breaks the tie. But, call it the curse of Eliot Spitzer, there is no lieutenant governor since David Paterson was elevated last year following Spitzer's prostitution issue.

   Democrats insist they will all vote for the budget today in the Senate, even if they have to do so while holding their nose. In past years, when things were reversed, Democrats had the luxury of being able to vote no on politically difficult issues.

   Meanwhile, Senate Republicans seem downright giddy that some Democrats - especially those they think could be vulnerable in next year's elections - will be voting for record tax increases and cuts to a host of popular programs while raising the overall budget nearly 9 percent to $131.8 billion.

   Expect to see the fun played out next year in political advertisements when the GOP, in one last effort to take control before the next redistricting process that could banish them to political oblivion, reminds voters how Democrats voted for higher taxes on everything from health insurance policies to motor vehicle registrations and wine.

   "Like shooting fish in a barrel," said one Republican.

   --- Tom Precious

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