Monday, January 3, 2011

Cuomo Plans One-Year Freeze on State Workers’ Pay

New York Times

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo
As part of his emergency fiscal plan, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is expected to take aim at unions during his State of the State address on Wednesday, officials said.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo will seek a one-year salary freeze for state workers as part of an emergency financial plan he will lay out in his State of the State address on Wednesday, senior administration officials said.

The move will signal the opening of what is expected to be a grueling fight between the new governor and the public-sector unions that have traditionally dominated the state’s political establishment.

It will also come days after the New Year’s Eve layoffs of more than 900 state workers, an event that union representatives marked with a candlelight vigil on the steps of the Capitol and outside government offices in five other cities.

“The governor said during his campaign that the difficult financial times call for shared sacrifice,” said a senior administration official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the governor’s address. “A salary freeze is obviously a difficult thing for many government workers, but it’s necessary if the state is going to live within its means.”

While the immediate budget savings from the freeze would be relatively modest — between $200 million and $400 million against a projected deficit in excess of $9 billion — achieving it would be politically meaningful.

And because such a step would not require legislative approval, Mr. Cuomo could achieve it while bypassing the Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, and the Democratic-controlled State Assembly, labor’s most powerful allies in Albany.

Of course, a freeze — which Mr. Cuomo promised he would seek during his campaign — would be subject to negotiation with the unions. But labor contracts for the vast majority of the state’s 190,000 employees expire on March 31, giving Mr. Cuomo an opening to seek changes at a time of public unease toward government workers’ benefits.

Salaries, health care and pension benefits for state workers represent one of the largest and fastest-growing areas of spending, accounting for about one-fifth of all state dollars.

On Sunday, a spokesman for the Civil Service Employees Association, the largest union of state workers, said that the association was open to discussions with Mr. Cuomo, but was uncomfortable with unilateral demands.

“There’s a significant difference between negotiating in good faith, and issuing some kind of edict that may or may not be legal,” said Stephen Madarasz, the association spokesman. “It’s really all based on what action follows.”

Public-sector unions around the nation face growing political pressures not only from Republicans but also from their traditional allies among Democrats, as governors grapple with recession, declining tax revenues and pension funds perilously close to bankruptcy.

In November, following the Republican takeover of the House, President Obama ordered a two-year salary freeze for civilian federal workers, subject to Congressional approval.

On Wednesday, Mr. Cuomo is also expected to call for a constitutional cap on state spending that would limit growth to the rate of inflation and for a budget that does not raise corporate, personal income or sales taxes, echoing proposals he made on the campaign trail. He will also repeat his call for a cap on the growth of local property taxes.

Even if he succeeds in winning a freeze, experts said, Mr. Cuomo will ultimately need to tackle more difficult public employee benefits, including a substantial restructuring of the state’s pension system, which faces serious shortfalls in the coming years.

“The past couple of budgets have really been holdover, stopgap plans,” said Elizabeth Lynam, vice president of the Citizens Budget Commission, an advocacy group that favors more limited spending. A one-year salary freeze, she added, would be “a beginning, and it’s a shot across the bow at organized labor, which has to date been uncompromising.”

“Hopefully it will lead to broad-based changes in the way state employees are compensated,” she said.

Mr. Cuomo has made clear that breaking the stranglehold that entrenched interests, including unions, have on political leaders in Albany is a major priority.

But Mr. Cuomo, who has longstanding ties to labor and was endorsed by the Public Employees Federation last year, is hoping that unions will join him in the effort to fix the state’s budget problems. In recent months, he invited public-sector unions to become his partners, even sending their leaders copies of “The Man Who Saved New York,” a biography of former Gov. Hugh L. Carey, which recounts how Mr. Carey, a Democrat, teamed up with labor leaders in similar fashion in the 1970s.

At the same time, Mr. Cuomo has signaled that he is ready to fight, and has vowed to avoid the fate of his predecessors, who have endured millions of dollars in withering television advertisements from public-sector unions seeking to forestall cuts to state spending.

After his landslide victory in November, he kept a substantial campaign war chest on reserve to run his own ads to counter any union-backed television campaigns and is now deploying outside advisers to organize business interests into what he hopes will become a counterweight to labor: a new group known as the Committee to Save New York.

Mr. Cuomo on Sunday attended Mass with his girlfriend, Sandra Lee, and his three daughters at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, down the street from the Executive Mansion. Shortly after that, he returned to work at the Capitol, where aides were huddled to help draft Wednesday’s speech and attend to other issues.

“We’re going to be getting back to work,” he told reporters after the service.

He also issued an executive order that will require top administration officials to undergo ethics training within the first three months of this year and to be recertified every two years afterward.

Thomas Kaplan contributed reporting.

(A version of this article appeared in print on January 3, 2011, on page A1 of the New York edition.)

Broadcast Union News: Yikes!! Gov. Cuomo is the candidate endorsed and successfully elected by the Democratic Party, proof positive that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans are friends of Labor. All working class Americans should be very afraid. I am.

The Democratic Party has become a bastion of hypocracy, cowtowing to the rich and powerful, while claiming to be the party of the working people.

William LeGro commented: "For Cuomo and the other governors he's so slavishly imitating, public employees are a pinata - easily-targeted scapegoats for the failure of politicians to tax and budget properly, for the recession, for resentful non-unionmembers who don't have the courage to organize themselves to fight for economic justice, and for voters who are ignorant of the fact that freezing public salaries saves a pittance and really, there's something fundamentally wrong with a plan to reduce the benefits of one group of workers to the level of the rest of us rather than try to raise the benefits for uninsured and underinsured Americans."

LeGro goes on to say: "Cuomo-type governors promise not to raise corporate and personal income taxes. Yet in the middle of the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression, corporations are sitting on mountains of cash and the rich are getting richer, widening the gulf between themselves and the rest of us, the great unwashed as far as they're concerned. Taxing the corporations and the rich at levels prevalent during the 1950s, or even the 1970s, would go a long way toward both funding public employee benefits and providing equal benefits to all citizens."

When 1% of Americans get 25% of the total U.S. annual income and 10% own 80% of the outstanding common stock, the "free market" is not so free.

When millions in tax payer bailout money goes to executive bonuses because they have "employment contracts", but collective bargaining agreements are violated and ignored, the market is not free and the playing field is not level.

When workers do a bad job, they get fired. When management in the financial services and auto industries did a bad job, they got a bailout.

Now, the same kind of mismanagement by public sector executives results in pay and benefits cuts for the workers, not the bosses.

Even Henry Ford, certainly no friend to labor, said; "You have to pay the workers enough that they can afford to buy our products."

With the death of the middle class, the destruction of our infrastructure, school systems, unions, and manufacturing base, there will be nobody to buy those products, whether produced here or overseas.

We are becoming a third world country and nearing the end of democracy, so short sighted, too sad to contemplate. So stand up! Fight back! Mobilize! Organize to take back the Democratic Party, The Labor Movement, and this country from the greed fat cats currently in control. The land of the free can only exist through the efforts of the brave.

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