State Workforce Helps Levies Burst

| Media Coverage

New York state’s enormous tax burden is fueled in part by a massive taxpayer-financed workforce that is second only to California in salaries, experts say.

State and local governments in New York employ 1.19 million full-time work ers, with an average annual income of $51,445, accord ing to a study of Census data by the Public Policy Institute.

Outside Manhattan, and the borough’s highly paid financial sector, government workers often earn more than private-sector employees.

A study by the Manhattan Institute found that in 51 of the state’s 62 counties, the average pay for state and local jobs is higher than the average for private-sector jobs.

“New York has a larger-than-average workforce and they are very well paid,” said E.J. McMahon, director of the Manhattan Institute.

He attributed the government payroll as one of the major reasons New York’s per-capita tax burden is the nation’s highest.

The Business Council of New York State this week calculated the per-capita tax burden in New York to be $5,770, about 36 percent above the national average.

A separate study of federal employment data by the Manhattan Institute’s Empire Center found that one out of eight New Yorkers is a unionized government worker, compared with the national average of one out of 19.

Compared with the private sector, the public workforce has become nearly recession-proof, with the number of government workers growing by 30,700 since 2000 even as private-sector employment remains about 40,000 jobs short of pre-9/11 levels.

Elizabeth Lynam of the Citizens Budget Commission said most of the growth has come at the local level – cities, towns and school districts.

Lynam said tax cuts at the state level have caused Albany’s payroll to shrink from 268,600 in 1995 to 259,100 last year. Over the same period, New York City’s workforce grew from 234,609 to 266,624.

“There isn’t any other city that has those kinds of numbers,” said Lynam.

Another problem facing local governments are state rules set up for negotiating salaries, often forcing communities into ever-escalating contracts with its cops, firefighters and teachers.

Former Mayor Ed Koch said it’s not just the number of city employees, but the expensive pension benefits the city is forced to provide by the state Legislature that creates a financial burden for taxpayers.

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