Saint George He Ain’t

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George Pataki’s ambush veto of the state legislature’s bipartisan budget in May contained steep cuts in legal services for the poor. It also included the unexpected elimination of funding to the nonprofit that provides legal advice to unrepresented tenants in Housing Court.

Pataki’s election-year veto–which is not likely to be overridden by the state legislators–also wiped out $38 million in new housing construction passed by the Senate and Assembly leadership. Democratic lawmakers hope to prod the governor to restore some of the cuts.

Pataki cut $6.8 million to the two sister government-funded organizations, which provide free legal assistance to the poor. The city’s legal services chapters absorbed $1.9 million in cuts. Scott Sommer, a former legal services lawyer who is now an official with the lawyers’ union, says the cuts could mean the elimination of between 40 and 60 legal services attorneys.

The Legal Aid Society also sustained a $1.9 million hit. “We’ve been able to reduce the deficit to about a half million this year, by cutting 20 staff lines,” said Steve Banks, deputy attorney-in-charge of Legal Aid’s Civil Division.

The City-Wide Task Force on Housing Court suffered the most damaging cut of all: Its entire state budget line of $263,000 was eliminated. “If we can’t figure out some way to get that money back, we’re basically out of business,” says director Angelita Anderson, who supervises five tenant help tables in borough housing courts.

At press time, housing advocates were continuing to lobby Pataki for funding restorations. So far they have been unsuccessful.

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