By Alan Lubin, Co- Chair BALCONY, BUSINESS AND LABOR COALITION OF NEW YORK
The future of New York State demands that a solid foundation of respect exist between state government and its workforce. That respect cannot exist if the public and private sector workers who retain state contracts cannot count on those contracts being honored.
BALCONY (www.balconynewyork.com) understands the gravity of the budget deficit facing New York State and that it must be addressed. However, for Governor Paterson to unilaterally abrogate contract law is not only an inappropriate means of trying to balance the budget it also sets a perilous precedent that the New York State government cannot be taken at its word.
Additionally, it sours the dialogue between the State and labor at a crucial juncture when consensus and not divisiveness is necessary to prevent the fiscal crisis from deepening while New Yorkers wait for a finalized budget. We must find common ground.
Whatever his reasons, Governor Paterson’s decision to bypass the Legislature and withhold $2.1 billion from school districts, his decision to withhold scheduled and collectively bargained pay raises from state employees, and his decision to freeze all bridge and road construction, is the wrong message to New Yorkers. Essentially, these cuts indicate that the Governor believes that progress and safety, as well as New Yorker’s education and health, are less important than protecting Wall Street bonuses.
Withholding billions from education will almost certainly force property taxes to skyrocket as school districts struggle to pay their immediate bills and in many case will have to go deeper into debt which will certainly deteriorate the quality and capacity of our schools.
The freeze on Department of Transportation construction projects not only forces contractors to abandon critical improvement on our roads, highways and bridges leaving them half finished jeopardizes the safety of all of us as well as putting more than 5,000 construction jobs across New York at risk.
Finally, breaking his contact with labor by withholding the 4% scheduled pay raises for unionized state workers deepens tensions between labor and Albany. This gives the impression that Governor Paterson is beholden to the interests of Big Business and the Business Council. He is willing to cut into New York’s most valuable, essential health care services mental health programs, college classes, lottery funded scholarships, motor vehicle licensing, insurance monitoring, road maintenance, and state parks as a first resort, when it should be the last.
This is totally unacceptable.
The New York State work force is our most valuable resource. It not only keeps our state moving forward but also keeps New York viable in the broader context of national politics. From scientists to street cleaners, our state workforce are the men and women who work every day to ensure that New Yorkers have a decent quality of life today, and a better quality of life tomorrow.
These men and women are represented by BALCONY members like the General Contractors Association of New York (GCANY), New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), the Public Employees Federation (PEF), and the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA), all of whom are considering or are currently engaged in lawsuits over Paterson’s contract violations.
BALCONY supports our members in their efforts to reverse what may well be a watershed decision by our embattled governor, and we are confident that the courts will recognize the supreme importance of government honoring its contracts with state employees.
A state budget must be negotiated in good faith at the bargaining table between the Assembly, Senate and Governor.
The posturing must stop, we must find common ground.