Governor Paterson today declared that New York State faces “an unprecedented financial emergency,” and asked the Legislature to choose between passing his deficit-reduction plan or granting him a new “executive option” to cut the budget unilaterally. But the latter proposal specifically excludes “funds appropriated pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement” from areas that might be subject to unilateral reduction, according to a memo released by Paterson’s office. That’s a pretty big carve-out.
Maybe the governor’s counsels had some legal qualms about seeking legislative authority to unilaterally abrogate any portion of an existing employee contract. However, it is clear that the Governor and Legislature acting together do have the statutory authority to freeze or defer scheduled employee pay increases, even during the term of an unexpired contract.
If the state is really confronting an “emergency”—and, indeed, it is—how can Paterson or the Legislature justify the continued payment of longevity “step” increases and base salary hikes to hundreds of thousands of state and local government employees, during a time of zero inflation and widespread private-sector job losses and pay cuts?
Sooner or later, Albany needs to treat a growing, statewide governmental financial crisis the same way it treated the more confined financial “emergencies” in New York City, Yonkers, Nassau County and Buffalo over the past 34 years.
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