raimondo-150x150-9595222Rhode Island’s governor has vetoed a law that would have saddled Ocean State taxpayers with the equivalent of New York’s Triborough Amendment, which perpetuates expired public-sector labor contracts.

Gov. Gina Raimondo, a first-term Democrat, specifically cited New York as an example not to follow in her veto message rejecting a union-backed “contract continuation” bill approved by Rhode Island’s General Assembly in the final days of that legislature’s regular session in June.

The bill, applying to teachers and municipal employees, would require all provisions of an otherwise expired labor contract to remain in effect until a new agreement has been reached.

New York’s Triborough amendment (Civil Service Law, Section 209-a(1)e) effectively does much the same thing by prohibiting employers from failing to honor an expired contract.  This effectively mandates that all provisions, including automatic longevity-based pay increases, must remain in effect.

As explained in this Empire Center study, Triborough gives unions an incentive to resist negotiating structural changes to their contracts, since the status quo will be preserved even if there is no contract. The law has long been cited by local government groups among the most costly state mandates. This is especially true for school districts, whose budgets are dominated by teacher contracts typically offering 20 years of automatic annual step raises plus subsequent periodic longevity increases. But Governor Andrew Cuomo, like most state lawmakers in both parties, has shown no willingness to reform or repeal the law.

NY’s wrong turn

When the Triborough bill reached his desk in the summer of 1982—having been initiated in the Republican-run state Senate, at the behest of teachers’ unions—Gov. Hugh Carey was already a lame duck with barely six months left in his second term. Carey repeatedly had stood up to powerful special interest groups, including unions, especially during the mid-1970s New York City fiscal crisis.

Yet despite strenuous opposition from New York municipal and school officials, and even a veto recommendation from his own Budget Division, Carey signed the Triborough amendment into law on July 29—35 years ago this coming Saturday. His only caveat, readily agreed to by the Legislature, was that the provision subsequently be amended to clarify that all bets were off in the event of a strike.

Rhode Island’s governor proved to be a better listener when mayors, school officials, business and civic groups rose up in opposition to a similar attempt by unions to lock in contracts. Indeed, her July 19 veto message provides a good summary of why Carey should never have signed New York’s Triborough amendment in the first place:

Never-ending contracts limit leaders’ ability to promise efficient and cost-effective government and will lead to higher costs to taxpayers, as they would make it more difficult for municipal leaders to deal with changing economic circumstances, rising costs or large deficits, and employees would have no incentive to renegotiate a contract if they expected significant concessions on wages, health care or working conditions. The likely result would be higher property taxes.

Raimondo said New York’s Triborough amendment experience “provides an important lesson” for Rhode Island.

In 2012, a time of significant fiscal distress in [New York] and elsewhere, 41 of 57 labor contracts surveyed by the New York State Association of Counties had expired but were not renegotiated. In many cases, labor unions had strategically decided they were better off stalling negotiations, given the difficult financial circumstances. Labor had little incentive to come to the bargaining table and negotiate in earnest, and [so] municipalities were forced to find cuts elsewhere and raise taxes. With a similar law on our books, how could we expect any different result?

The bill would also have undermined a Rhode Island law prohibiting municipalities from signing labor contracts that last beyond three years. That three-year limit, Raimondo said,  “protects the taxpayers from being obligated indefinitely for contract provisions that, in the future, may not be affordable.”

Two years ago, Raimondo vetoed a nearly identical bill affecting firefighter unions only, but this year signed a compromise bill allowing the terms of expired firefighter contracts to continue in cases where the parties to a negotiation agreed to it. She said she would sign a similar bill affecting all employees, which would mirror a law in effect in Massachusetts.

A stolid liberal Democrat on most issues, Raimondo is best known for her reform of Rhode Island’s troubled public pension system, which she spearheaded while serving as state treasurer in 2011. Her reforms have been cited as a model for other states and cities with troubled pension systems, earning her a Manhattan Institute “Urban Innovator Award” in 2012 and a spot on  Fortune magazine’s “World’s 50 Greatest Leaders” list in 2016, among other distinctions.

She also has earned the lasting enmity of Rhode Island unions. After unsuccessfully fighting to block pension reform in the Legislature and in court, the unions negotiated some changes and ultimately opposed Raimondo in the 2014 election.

Her veto of the contract continuation bill drew immediate attack from Robert Walsh, executive director of the National Education Association Rhode Island.

“I think that the classified ad is out: ‘Real Democrat wanted for governor of Rhode Island,” Walsh said, calling on the Rhode Island General Assembly to override her veto.

About the Author

E.J. McMahon

Edmund J. McMahon is Empire Center's founder and a senior fellow.

Read more by E.J. McMahon

You may also like

Remembering the scandal that brought down Health Commissioner Howard Zucker

The resignation of Dr. Howard Zucker as state health commissioner marks the end of a term marred by scandal over his role in managing the coronavirus pandemic. The much-debated compelling nursing homes to admit COVID-positive patients, though it origi Read More

As leaves turn, NY’s post-pandemic recovery still has very far to go

Entering the second autumn since the COVID-19 outbreak of March 2020, the pace of New York State's pandemic economic recovery has been abysmal by almost any standard. New York was the national epicenter of the pandemic, and Governor Cuomo's "" business Read More

More NY job gains in August—but employment needs to rise a lot further

New York's jobs report for August looked relatively strong—but only by comparison, that is, with . On a seasonally adjusted basis, New York gained 28,000 private-sector jobs last month—a growth rate of 0.4 percent, according to . This was double th Read More

Projected PIT Haul Brightens State Budget Office’s Fiscal Forecast 

Stronger than expected tax payments this spring led the Governor’s Division of the Budget (DOB) to increase its personal income tax (PIT) revenue projections for the next four years by $8.5 billion above its April pr Read More

After 10 weeks, all but five of the Empire Center’s 63 requests for pandemic data remain unfulfilled

Over the 10 days that Hochul has been in office, there has been no further progress on the Empire Center's record requests. Read More

New York’s health benefits remain the second-costliest in the U.S.

New York's health benefit costs increased faster than the national average in 2020, leaving it with the second-least affordable coverage in the U.S. The state's average total cost f Read More

Cuomo’s “FOIL at a Glance”

The document, titled “Foil at a Glance,” lays out the Cuomo administration’s procedures for handling FOIL requests Read More

Manhattan Office Suites Emptier Than Other Major Metros

Fewer than one in four New York City office workers are back in the office, according to a pair of datasets issued this week.    Read More


Sign up to receive updates about Empire Center research, news and events in your email.


Empire Center for Public Policy
30 South Pearl St.
Suite 1210
Albany, NY 12207

Phone: 518-434-3100

General Inquiries: Info@EmpireCenter.org

Press Inquiries: Press@EmpireCenter.org


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.

Empire Center Logo Enjoying our work? Sign up for email alerts on our latest news and research.
Together, we can make New York a better place to live and work!