ALBANY – Lawmakers have agreed to spend $1.4 million to fund the lieutenant governor’s office for the next 12 months – even though it’s vacant.

“They are funding empty juvenile detention centers and half-empty prisons, so why not fund an empty lieutenant governor’s office?” quipped conservative fiscal analyst E.J. McMahon of the Manhattan Institute’s Empire Center for Public Policy.

The funding for Gov. Paterson’s old office – he left it March 17 when former Gov. Eliot Spitzer resigned after being tied to a prostitution ring – was tucked in a general government bill both houses have approved.

Just because the money is being appropriated doesn’t mean it will go out the door, suggested Jeffrey Gordon, spokesman for Paterson’s budget office.

“We won’t spend it all,” he vowed.

The approved funding includes nearly $1.2 million for staff salaries, $105,000 for travel and $6,000 for equipment.

As for the rest of the $124 billion state budget, which was due March 31, much work remains. “Things are not so smooth now,” a Paterson administration source said. Talks will likely continue through the weekend.

Despite reports that a deal on a $1.25-per-pack cigarette tax hike has been sealed, lobbyists on both sides were still pushing their respective causes.

“It’s not done until it’s done,” said Russell Sciandra, director of the Center for a Tobacco Free New York, noting a swarm of tobacco company lobbyists, including former GOP state Sen. Nick Spano of Yonkers, was trying to kill the tax proposal.

On health care, the Legislature agreed a new Rx discount card program that will allow low-income New Yorkers to pay reduced prices for pharmaceutical drugs by using the state’s barganing clout to get lower prices from drug companies.

Assembly Health Committee Chairman Dick Gottfried (D-Manhattan) lamented that the new program will exclude “perhaps millions of people who should have been eligible,” adding, “I will fight to get this program expanded.”

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The Empire Center is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank located in Albany, New York. Our mission is to make New York a better place to live and work by promoting public policy reforms grounded in free-market principles, personal responsibility, and the ideals of effective and accountable government.