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Things are tough all over.

   Breaking on The Buffalo News Web site today:
- Deficit grows to $3 billion as Paterson asks for ideas - Tom Precious/The Buffalo News
   ALBANY -- Fiscal officials in the Paterson administration and Legislature believe the state's deficit is at least $3 billion -- $900 million more than estimated in July.Paterson108
   In a letter today to his negotiation counterparts in the Legislature, Robert Megna, the governor's budget director, said the Paterson administration needs the help of lawmakers to close the red ink.
   The request came a couple days after Paterson ordered $500 million worth of savings in state agencies -- which is about as much as he can do on his own, officials say, without approval from the Legislature.
   Hours later, Paterson rejected -- before it was even made public -- a five-year capital program for roads and bridges work around the state, saying the state's precarious fiscal condition will imperil the projects

- State's budget faces $415 million shortfall - The Des Moines (Iowa) Register
   State officials must ax $415 million in state spending over the next nine months, the most severe midyear cut in more than 40 years.
   It will mean trims and elimination of some government services, and some state employees will face layoffs.
   A projected nose dive in tax collections prompted Iowa Gov. Chet Culver on Wednesday to vow to cut at least 8.4 percent from the current budget, if not more.

- Heineman calls special session of Legislature to cut budget - The Lincoln (Neb.) Journal-Star
   The Legislature will meet in special session, possibly beginning Nov. 4, to deal with declining state tax receipts and revise the state budget, Gov. Dave Heineman announced Wednesday....
   General fund tax receipts through Sept. 30, the end of the first quarter of the two-year budget, are below projections for the quarter by $56.8 million, Heineman said. Gross general fund receipts for the month were $358 million, 9 percent below the forecast of $393 million.

- House approves state budget, accompanying tax bill - Pittsburgh (Pa.) Post-Gazette
   HARRISBURG -- It looks like 100 may be the General Assembly's lucky number, as legislators near the end of arduous work on a long-overdue state budget.
   In a 107-93 vote tonight, the state House approved a state spending plan along with a tax code bill, which includes $1.7 billion in new revenue to fund it...
   The revenue bill raises the cigarette tax by 25 cents per pack, delays the phaseout of a tax on business assets, authorizes leasing of more state forest land for natural gas drilling, depletes the state's "rainy day" emergency fund and starts a tax amnesty program aimed at getting scofflaws to pay up.
   The new taxes, which accompany $2 billion in federal stimulus aid and $25 billion from the sales tax, income tax, corporate taxes and other state revenues, will pay for a fiscal year 2009-10 budget of nearly $27.8 billion. The fiscal year started July 1 -- 99 days ago.

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

Albany poised to get tough on teen driving

   ALBANY -- Sometimes at the Capitol, it takes the realities of life to empower action. In the case of teen driving laws, advocates say it has taken the faces of more than 200 annual teen driving fatalities to do the job.

   But Albany, after years of inaction, seems to be moving on the issue of bolstering teen driving rules. The sponsors of a new Paterson administration bill said Tuesday they see nothing stopping passage of the effort to impose new restrictions on teen drivers.

   The bill would bring New York's rules up to the levels of many other states by restricting to one the number of teen passengers in a car driven by a teen, banning all portable electronic devices, ending plea bargains on moving violations, and adding training time for permit holders.

   "I do think it's a great idea," Diane Magle said of the bill. Her 17-year-old daughter, Katie, died in a 2005 crash in a car driven by a teenage friend. Magle said she especially likes the new bill's provision limiting the number of teen passengers to one; in her daughter's crash, three teen passengers were in the car.

   Magle said the bill should reduce teen driving fatalities.

   But she wishes lawmakers added one more provision: raising the driving age from 16 to 17.

   That would be difficult, especially in rural and even many suburban areas where parents and teens rely on the 16-year-old provision to get teens to places like after-school jobs.

   Whether Albany acts this year, despite the optimism of the measure's sponsors, is never certain.

   A year ago at this time, the momentum was there and sponsors were upbeat. But then, sources said, a couple downstate Republicans balked at the last minute over a provision requiring back-seat passengers to wear seat belts. One source said a GOP lawmaker was concerned about getting ticketed for not wearing a seat belt -- as he napped in the back while his driver took him between his Long Island district and Albany.

   -- Tom Precious

Albany's latest ploy: surcharges on utility bills

   Consumers dodged a bullet, albeit a small-caliber one, when the New York Power Authority backed down Tuesday from its plan to raise electricity rates on upstate ratepayers.

   Consumers save about $10 million via the Power Authority retreat.

   That money will come in handy to help pay for a plan to impose higher surcharges on utilities -- which will be passed along to consumers -- that state budget negotiators are working on in Albany this week.

   The surcharges -- no, they can't be found lined out on most electric or gas bills -- will bring in at least $651 million to Albany in the coming year if Gov. David A. Paterson has his way. That is up from about $120 million the past year.

   Opponents, who include business groups, utilities and some advocates for low-income people, say the timing of such a tax increase on such basic needs -- electricity, natural gas, telephones -- is especially onerous during the steep economic slide the state is living through.

   While the Paterson administration would not comment Wednesday, the governor has said he does not want to raise taxes. But there is little choice.

   The state is facing a $16.2 billion deficit, and higher revenues and spending cuts are required if the state budget is to be balanced.

   It means higher utility taxes could be just one of many new ways New Yorkers will be asked to pay for the state budget. And new ways of raising revenues are possibly coming: higher income taxes on people making more than $250,000 annually, a higher state sales tax, and maybe expanding the bottle bill to include non-carbonated beverages. Some revenue-raising ideas were in trouble Wednesday, such as letting supermarkets sell wine.

   But is there a tipping point? Will more people flee the state if some of these plans end up making life here less affordable? Does it make sense during a recession for Albany to dig deeper in the wallets of New Yorkers? And what happened to Paterson's mantra of changing the "spendaholic" ways of state government?

   The answers, or at least some of them, will likely be known in a few days if lawmakers are right in saying they will have a budget done by the March 31 deadline.

   -- Tom Precious