Don’t look now, but the Legislature is a step away from passing a straight four-year extension of the Taylor Law’s police and binding arbitration provision, which is due to sunset June 30. The Senate extender bill (sponsored by Martin Golden, R-Brooklyn) was reported out of the Civil Service and Pensions Committee last week and advanced to third reading on the floor calendar this week. The Assembly bill (sponsored by Peter Abbate, D-Brooklyn) has been sitting on the floor calendar in the lower house since late April.
Governor Cuomo has said he would not agree to extend the law without changes, but hasn’t been clear on what kind of changes he will demand as his price for signing. Despite strong union support for the measure, Cuomo could make a veto stick—as David Paterson did when hevetoed a previously routine extension of the long-established Tier 2 police and fire pension pension plan back in 2009.
Arbitration has played a major role in driving up and locking in excessive compensation costs for police officers and firefighters across the state. County and municipal officials say the law needs to be changed to them the negotiating leverage they need to push unions harder for changes to unaffordable contract provisions. Nonetheless, Republicans and Democrats in both houses the Legislature have lined up with unions in support of the status quo.
Back in January, Governor Cuomo proposed a budget bill provision that would have capped arbitration awards (including both base pay and health insurance costs) at 2 percent a year, which would have at least given unions a more incentive to negotiate concessions. Senate Republicans and Assembly Democrats (predictably) wouldn’t bite, instead inserting straight four-year extenders into their respective one-house budget resolutions. Cuomo wouldn’t agree to that, so the issue was dropped from the final enacted budget.
Last month, Cuomo proposed creation of a “financial restructuring board” for distressed local governments to provide, among other things, an alternative, “voluntary” binding arbitration process for municipalities and their police and fire unions. It’s a puzzlingly half-baked idea, since neither party in a labor dispute would have any reasons to do it, and the rules of the alternative process were not stipulated. The governor also has said he wouldn’t agree to extend the existing law, but has not otherwise specified what kind of changes would demand as a condition for signing the bill. For now, the legislation creating the restructuring board has served to muddy the waters surrounding the whole issue.
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