By JOSEPH SPECTOR
Gannett Albany Bureau
ALBANY _ Gov. David Paterson said today he will include a measure to furlough state workers one day a week in his emergency appropriations bill next week.
The move will force lawmakers to either vote to shut down state government or agree to the furloughs, which public employees have vigorously fought.
Paterson said the state is simply running out of money without a budget deal in place for the 2010-11 fiscal year, which started April 1.
"The state is going to run out of money in May and pretty much the culture around here you would never know you're in an economic crisis," Paterson said.
The state budget was due April 1 and without an agreement, Paterson has submitted weekly budget extenders to keep government operating. Lawmakers have passed the measures, but Paterson has withheld aid for capital projects and raises for public employees.
Now he said he plans to include the furloughs, which he has estimated will save the state $30 million a week. Paterson said he has the legal authority to call for the furloughs, which may impact about 100,000 employees, because the state doesn't have a budget in place.
"I have repeatedly called upon the State public employee unions to work with me to achieve critical workforce savings," Governor Paterson said in a statement on Tuesday afternoon. "Because unions have not accepted any proposals to achieve necessary savings, I am left with no other choice but to move forward with this plan. I do not take this action lightly, but it is necessary given the unions' unwillingness to make any sacrifices and I will do whatever is necessary to protect New York's finances."
Flo Tripi, Western Region President of the Civil Service Employees Association, scoffed at the Governor's assertion, insisting the union has made several attempts to convince Paterson there are other ways for the state to save money.
Further, Tripi believes the Governor is acting punitively toward the union for its refusal to forgo scheduled raises as he'd asked them to do earlier to help close the state's budget deficit.
"I think it is his way of punishing state employees because they would not comply with his request in the beginning to open contracts or to make concessions in the contract and give up that four percent raise," Tripi told 2 On Your Side's Dave McKinley.
Paterson said it has not been determined how the furloughs would be scheduled or which agencies would be most affected, but he said in a statement that public health and safety would not be affected.
While exploring its legal options the CSEA, which might ordinarily lobby state lawmakers to oppose the Governor, finds itself stuck between a "rock and a hard place" according to Tripi.
"Do we make noise in the legislature and say to the legislators 'we don't want you to vote for this bill because it has furloughs in it for our employees' when in the same sense what that bill then does (by not being approved) is shut down Government in New York State? He's (Paterson) got us in a box and we're damned if we do and damned if we don't," Tripi said.
Tripi also says legislators are in a similar bind.
2 On Your Side reached out to state lawmakers throughout Western New York to gauge how they might vote on this latest emergency appropriation bill with its new twist involving the furloughs. Here's what those who responded had t say:
NYS Assembly Member Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D-Buffalo):
Peoples-Stokes says she's leaning toward voting "yes" on the bill, but with reluctance.
"I'm disappointed that I even have to think about it, ...I am concerned that if i don't vote for the extender that the entire state could be shut down and people will be out of work for ten days not just one... our ultimate responsibility is to provide for some continuum of state services, which are desperately needed by my constituents. It's going to be a decision that won't be pretty, .. as a matter of fact it will be very ugly but it may have to be made."
NYS Assembly Member Francine DelMonte (D- Niagara Falls):
Like Peoples-Stokes, DelMonte would feel badly for state workers effected by furloughs, but says it's a less bitter pill to swallow than shutting down the state government, so she too is leaning toward voting "yes".
"I don't take any glee in this,... but 'm not prepared to shut down the state government ...that would be awful." Delmonte is hopeful that another component of what the Governor is proposing - an early retirement incentive for eligible state workers- will relieve some of the fiscal pressure on the state should enough people avail themselves to it, to the point where furloughs and more draconian measures such as layoffs could be avoided.
NYS Senator George Maziarz (R-Wilson):
Maziarz has voted against extender bills because he believes they are a nothing more than a stop-gap and an excuse for further delaying the adoption of a complete budget. But, faced with the possibility that voting "no" will shut down the state government said, "it would be going against the grain of where I've been the last two weeks, but I would probably vote in favor of it, yes."
NYS Senator Michael Ranzenhofer (R-Amherst) :
Ranzenhofer says he'll continue to vote "no" on extender bills but that his opposition to them is not rooted in sympathy for state employees facing furloughs.
"While I do support the Governor's furlough plan, I don't support the extender ...I think it's used as an excuse not to tackle the tough choices that have to be made in Albany"
NYS Senator Antoine Thompson (D-Buffalo) :
Thompson's office issued the following statement from the Senator:
"I have not taken a position at this time. However, the attorneys are reviewing whether it's legal to have furloughs. I don't believe it is legal and any decision on furloughs has to be negotiated with the labor unions."
Despite their tradition of being "labor friendly", Tripi fully expects that Democrats who control the State Legislature will end up passing the extender bill which calls for furloughs.
"I don't think in an election year they can afford to shut down state government," Tripi said.
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