Protesters congregate in mini-day of rage in State Capitol

Tom Precious | March 15, 2011 The State Capitol felt its own mini-day of rage Tuesday, as an array of protesters — from state university students to the disabled — fanned out throughout the hallways, trying to beat back proposed budget cuts. One demonstration that saw separate protest groups merge their causesmanaged to force troopers to close down doors outside the governor's office, while several-dozen loudly chanting people, many in wheelchairs, brought the Assembly to a halt for an hour. By day's end, though, after most of the demonstrators got back on the dozens of buses that came from Buffalo and elsewhere, the two legislative chambers approved their own versions of a 2011 budget plan that lawmakers hope provide a road map for talks with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo before the fiscal year starts April 1. State police said there were no arrests. One organizer who urged her group to remain peaceful said she did not have enough money to make bail. The issues touched the range of hot-button items: education and health care cuts, calls to hike taxes on millionaires and a new push-back by disabled people to a plan by Cuomo to cap certain medical malpractice awards as a way to cut hospital costs. Demonstrators packed the halls in numbers not seen in years. "We're going to make some noise, and you're welcome to join us," one organizer from a group pressing for more human services funding by hiking taxes on the wealthy shouted to a noisy group of state university students protesting higher education cutbacks on the historic Million Dollar Staircase. The groups merged into one, snaking its way through the halls to just outside the governor's suite. Cuomo, though, was in the Adirondacks spending a day with his daughters. So, they improvised. "We want Duffy," the group chanted, shouting for a meeting, instead, with Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy. The administration sent the governor's communications adviser to accept their petition, which, at first, they refused to turn over until someone with a higher title met with them.

"I didn't vote for him, and this is why," Lisa Crapnell, of the Niagara Organizing Alliance Group, said of Cuomo while demonstrators shouted outside the governor's office. A couple of hours later, a group of disabled people in orange T-shirts shut down the the Assembly for more than an hour as several-dozen chanted from an upstairs gallery and the rear of the chamber, loud enough to prevent lawmakers from debating bills. "Order on the floor," Assemblyman Peter Rivera implored from the rostrum as he slammed his gavel, to no avail. Bruce Darling, an organizer with ADAPT, a disability rights group, said the group is concerned the Cuomo budget will cut home care services and drive severely disabled people into nursing homes and other institutions. As the Assembly halted its work, outside the Capitol a group of several-hundred state university students rallied to try to undo planned cuts to the 64-campus system. "We are not poor in this state. New York has plenty of money," Barbara Bowen, president of a faculty union at the City University of New York, told the crowd. "It is a deliberate choice to hurt people," she said. Details of the Assembly and Senate budget bills were already released Monday. Aides to Cuomo say the competing legislative plans are close to his overall fiscal plan, though there are some poison pills, they say, such as the Assembly bill's tax hike on millionaires.

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