New York State Senate in Chaos as Stalemate Continues

New Yorkers might want to start asking what they're getting for their money.

The state Senate has devolved into partisan antics -- most recently, a senator in search of a caffeine fix was counted as present by the opposition party for a vote -- and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is accusing the senators of costing the state $60 million a month during the power struggle

As the Senate moved into its fourth week of a 31-31 stalemate, the June 30 deadline for a number of state statutes expired -- including a number of budget and tax measures.

Under New York's state constitution, the lieutenant governor has the authority to break the stalemate, but the state doesn't have one. Former lieutenant governor, David Paterson, replaced Eliot Spitzer as governor in 2008 after Spitzer resigned following an affair with a prostitute.

The quarrel has so far cost taxpayers more than $94,000, which includes $9,500 in daily expenses accrued by senators who do not live in the Albany area.

"It's a very sad state of affairs," Republican state Sen. Frank Padavan told Thursday. "It's another day that we will not be doing the people's work. A lot of legislation that affects the City of New York in terms of their fiscal revenue sales tax is at stake."

Democrats won a majority in New York's state Legislature in November following 40 years of Republican control over the state Senate. But in an effort to toss power back to the GOP, two rebellious Democrats -- Sen. Pedro Espada of the Bronx and Sen. Hiram Monserrate of Queens -- switched parties June 8 to join the Republicans. Monserrate, however, has since rejoined the Democrats, resulting in a 31-31 deadlock in the Senate.

Both factions have defied Gov. David Paterson's orders to act together on legislation. The governor, who has called the fracas in Albany "disgusting," has asked the state comptroller to freeze the senators' pay.

During their claim to power, the Republicans ousted Democratic Senate Majority leader Malcolm Smith -- naming Espada the Senate president. Espada claims he was locked out of the Senate chamber on June 9 in a vicious attempt by Democrats to prevent him from opening the session.

Tuesday's Senate session -- during which Democrats counted Padavan in their tally -- underscored the contentious power struggle over who should control the chamber. Padavan claims he was taking a short-cut to the members' lounge to get a snack when the 31 Democrats seized the opportunity to count him as their 32nd vote -- unanimously passing 125 bills in three hours with Republicans absent.

"I was not in the chamber during the voting," Padavan said. "To suggest otherwise is totally childish."

But the Democrats defended the bills' passage, insisting they had been lawfully passed.

A state Democratic aide told that the senate journal clerk Lisa Copeland -- not the Democratic state senators themselves -- counted Padavan in "accordance to procedures and customs."

"Our legal team has concluded that yesterday's procedures were entirely proper under the New York state constitution, the laws of the state of New York, and long standing senate rules and procedures," Gregory Krakower, director of the senate policy group and special counsel said in a statement.

In an affidavit filed Tuesday, Copeland said: "During these opening proceedings and after the start of session, I noticed that Senator Frank Padavan walked across the back of the Senate Chamber and looked upward toward the Senate desk where the deputy journal clerk is located and where I take attendance. Based on my personal observation of Senator Padavan in the ordinary course of Senate business, I marked him present on my Senate attendance sheet."

Padavan said he believes the Democrats are unwilling to sit with Republicans because "they can't agree among themselves" on legislation.