Cuomo Makes Moves On Pension Reform: Stirs Some Pushback
Governor Andrew Cuomo came out swinging last week as he started his offensive against liberal state labor union pensions which he attacks as being overly liberal and a major contributing factor in the state’s billiondollar budget deficits.
In rapid-order succession, the governor announced:
•Settlement of a contract agreement with a state employees’ law enforcement union which includes a pay freeze, calls for sharp increases in workers’ contributions to healthcare plans, and ends automatic “step” pay increases.
•The state was functionally bankrupt and warned state public employee unions there would be no pay increases for the next three years.
•He would veto any legislation calling for pension increases for workers in state government jobs.
In commenting on the contract settlement with the 1160-member Council 82, he said the New York Law Enforcement Officers Union was a model for other larger unions. Negotiations are presently going on with the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) and the Public Employees Federation (PEF), two of the largest in the state.
Cuomo continued, “I think it recognizes the economic reality that we’re in… the state is basically functionally bankrupt… so if the public employees think that they can get big raises from the state, they can’t. We don’t have the money, and we are in a position where we are not going to be raising taxes in this state to pay higher costs for public employees.”
PEF President Ken Brynien, commenting on the contract settlement, said his union had already rejected a similar proposal because it would result in an average loss of $10,000 a year in benefits and wages for each of his 56,000 members.
And CSEA President Danny Donohue said the settlement with Council 82 in no way sets the pattern for his union’s bargaining.
The Council 82 contract must still be ratified by its members, so observers and the governor will be watching to see if the CSEA and PEF make any move to have Council 82 members reject the proposed contract settlement.
But if Council 82 members ratify the contract, it will bring pressure on the two larger unions in their negotiations on their contracts. Already hanging over all state workers’ union heads is Cuomo’s threat to lay off about 10,000 state workers if he can’t reduce labor costs by about $500 million this year.
As for his threat to veto any pension fattening legislation; that arose after the Citizens Budget Commission issued a report that state legislators had introduced 55 bills this session to award government workers further enhancements on their already comfortable pensions.
If those 55 bills passed, it would cost the state nearly $1 billion in added costs. Faced with this possibility, Cuomo threw out the blanket veto threat, saying the state has to reduce pension costs, not increase them. Instead he’s proposing a new Tier VI pension plan requiring new public employees to contribute more for their pensions to ease the pressure on state taxpayers.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who complained loudly that the governor was no help to the city with the state budget that was passed, is firmly in his corner on dealing with huge pension payouts. According to some published estimates, the city will have to pay out $8.4 billion to pension recipients next year.
Besides the pension fight, the governor is under pressure to pass a real property tax cap, must deal with the thorny renewal of the rent control law, and take a position on whether to allow some controlled drilling for natural gas, which could bring jobs to the state and give our economy a shot in the arm; or place a permanent ban on the drilling because the newfangled hydrofracking method may contaminate our water supply, which would generally please environmentalists; or find a compromise that allows drilling with tough controls that would protect our water supply in the Adirondacks while helping our economy.
NO NEW COPS TILL JULY; VALLONE DISPLEASED: Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr. (D–Astoria) was angry last week when Mayor Michael Bloomberg postponed the hiring of 540 new recruits this month, as planned, and postponed it until July when 900 recruits will be hired.
In a prepared statement Vallone said, “This class was the cavalry coming over the hill to a depleted force, that’s why we funded it in last year’s budget. Without these reinforcements, the thin blue line may be pushed past the limit.”
The problem, said Vallone, chairman of the Public Safety Committee, was that every month that the city didn’t hire new cops meant that the total force continued to be depleted by retirements and the public’s safety was further placed in danger. Besides that, he noted, the April cancellation comes after a previous disappointment— failure to add new recruits to the force this past January, when the hiring was put off until this month.
Looking ahead to the promised July hirings, Vallone said by that time it won’t be until next January that those new recruits will be added to the ready-for-action patrol force.
“And as every month goes by, we lose over a hundred officers to attrition.”
A Bloomberg spokesperson said the reason for the hiring postponement was the lingering problems associated with the budget. Also alarmed by the decision were City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch. The only one not gnashing his teeth was NYPD spokesman Paul Browne, who stated that despite the dwindling numbers of cops, overall crime was down in the major categories.
DENDEKKER HAPPY WE GOT ENTERPRISE: City officials and John Q Public were all on board with the federal government’s decision to send the prototype space shuttle Enterprise to New York City. Among them, Assemblymember Michael DenDekker (D–Jackson Heights) stated, “Like all New Yorkers, I am thrilled that NASA has given us this unique and historic craft.” DenDekker recalled he had introduced a resolution last year calling for the Enterprise to be sent here as recognition for New York’s contributions to the space frontier by awarding us a space shuttle. It will mean many good things for New York City, DenDekker predicted.
STAVISKY SEEKS INFO ON CITY’S CONDO TAXING: State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky (D–Whitestone) reports she has filed a Freedom of Information Law request to the city Finance Commissioner’s office to be further enlightened about the “computer glitch which led to skyrocketing” property value assessments, and potentially huge tax bills for condo and co-op owners.
Stavisky recalled that three months ago, Finance had issued increased property assessments for the owners, by as much as 147 percent. But last month Finance Commissioner David Frankel reduced those increases to a maximum of 50 percent after discovering a computer error had produced the original huge assessments.
“Frankel also advised her,” she said, “that there were errors, but said he could not give me a list of the errors,” which led to the lawmaker’s Freedom of Information request. Coops face a May 25, 2011 date when the increases will take effect, Stavisky informed Frankel, and added she and the other owners are entitled to full disclosure before May 25th.
‘HAPPY MEALS’ CONTROVERSY: Councilmember Leroy Comrie (D–St. Albans) proposes a bill that would ban fastfood restaurants like McDonald’s from giving kids a free toy as enticement for them to purchase and eat Children’s menu items which he believes are unhealthy for them. Fellow Councilmember Dan Halloran (D–Whitestone) disagrees.
Halloran says all New Yorkers are “entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of Happy Meals”. The city’s well-intentioned efforts to fight childhood obesity ignore consumers’ basic rights, which is wrong, according to Halloran.
“If people want to buy their kids a Happy Meal, it is their right to make that choice,” Halloran said, “and it’s none of the business of the New York City government. If you don’t want a Happy Meal, the solution is simple— don’t buy one!”
Comrie’s bill wouldn’t even accomplish what he’s seeking to do, says Halloran. What we should be doing with our kids is teach them discipline, he advises, and have them learn to say no to fast food.
MARAGOS IS QUEENS CONSERVATIVES’ SPEAKER: In observance of Holy Thursday, the Queens Conservative Party changed its meeting date and held its meeting on April 20. The guest speaker was Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos, who had Conservative support when he was elected to that post.
Maragos spoke about the effects of unfunded mandates imposed by the state government on the city.