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Reality Check for State Workers

April 9, 2010

It’s a difficult thing for state workers to embrace, but they must share the pain of state budget cutbacks.

Frankly, it never made any sense for Governor Paterson to be running around the state claiming that we faced “the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression,” while, at the same time, insisting there was no need for state worker layoffs, pay cuts or a re-evaluation of benefits.

Of course, the state budget cannot be balanced on the backs of state workers. In reality, the state workforce accounts for only a fraction of the overall state budget, with more than two-thirds of the budget being payments to schools and health care providers.  

Still, the workforce cannot be exempted. There needs to be some savings extracted from personnel costs, just like any business facing a downturn. New York is a $141 billion business with 239,717 workers, according to the most recent figures from the Citizens Budget Commission.

Paterson has now proposed delaying a scheduled 4 percent pay increase to state workers. Given the circumstances, this would seem to be a fair position by the Governor, but it has been met with howls of protest from public employee union leaders.

The union leaders have attacked the Governor and have threatened to sue to block the measure. This is typical union leader bombast delivered more for the benefit of their members than the public, which is certainly not sympathetic to such arguments.

The reality is that virtually every other state facing budget problems has taken more dramatic action. Most of the other governors facing budget shortfalls have laid off state workers, implemented furlough programs and/or increased employee payments for health care.  

It should not be a question of whether New York takes personnel actions; it must. The only real question is which personnel actions are most effective and humane. Considering the alternatives, a temporary delay in implementing a pay raise simply should not be controversial.

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