Four days after proposing to slash the salaries of 350 Harrison town employees by 20 percent, Supervisor Joan Walsh was re-elected supervisor by voters in the affluent Westchester County suburb.

With the town facing a budget gap between $3.3 million to $5.5 million, Walsh says that unless employee salaries are slashed by 20 percent, taxpayers will be hit with a 30 percent tax increase. Her proposed $49 million budget–even with the salary reductions–increases town taxes by 8.9 percent, the Journal News reports (here and here).

It’s unclear what leverage Walsh has to impose a 20 percent pay cut under existing public employee union contracts. The unions earlier rebuffed her when she proposed furloughs.

It’s also unclear that Harrison voters gave Walsh, a Democrat, a mandate to cut salaries. Her 51-to-49 percent victory over Police Chief David Hall follows a contentious rift begun a year ago after the supervisor “pushed for an investigation into allegations of police misconduct,” according to the newspaper (here).

Meanwhile, Walsh is not alone in calling for reductions in compensation for public employees. Westchester County Association President William Mooney told state legislators Thursday that “New York leads the pack in terms of generous public-sector compensation. Only one state (Alaska) pays higher government wages and salaries per capita than we do. ”

In almost every region in New York state outside of New York City, public-sector salaries outpace the private sector. In the upstate region, the average private-sector salary is $42,978, and the average public-sector salary is $47,036, 10 percent more; in the Capital District, the average private-sector salary is $39,370, and the average public-sector salary is $44,939, up 14 percent; in the mid-Hudson region, the average private-sector salary is $50,311, and the average public-sector salary $53,445, 6 percent greater; and on Long Island, the average private-sector salary is $39,574, while the average public-sector salary is $57,711, 46 percent more. 

Now let’s talk about health-insurance benefits. The current national debate about health-care reform focuses on the tens of millions of uninsured and underinsured Americans….One of the major reasons is that health-insurance premiums are unaffordable to many private-sector employers and sole proprietors. However, if you work in the public sector in New York state, taxpayers cover over 90 percent of your health-insurance premium. In many cases it reaches 100 percent.

The issues I have just spoken about pale in comparison to the public-sector pension costs…. Statewide, pension contributions by every level of government have increased tenfold in past decade: from $991 million in 2000 to $10.1 billion in 2009. Recently, New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli predicted that local governments outside New York City will be forced to triple their contributions to public pensions over the next six years to make up for declines in the stock market. Wouldn’t it be nice if our employers made up the hole in our 401(k) investments?

Originally Published: NY Public Payroll Watch

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