Cuomo hits snooze on pay raises as local governments get squeezed

BY KEN GIRARDIN

Governor Andrew Cuomo is again postponing pay raises for state employees—giving himself a little more budgetary breathing room without providing similar relief for local governments or school districts.

According to the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA), which represents about 65,000 state workers, the Cuomo administration is again postponing scheduled 2-percent raises for CSEA-represented workers “for another three months.” The raises were set to take effect next week after being postponed in April and June.

The move likely also affects unionized correctional officers and state university professionals, whose raises had also been delayed. All told, that affects more than half of the executive branch workforce. The Cuomo administration hasn’t released any formal announcement of the move, leaving the public to get partial information from the affected unions.

The raises were postponed to help the state grapple with a roughly $8 billion COVID-fueled budget gap during the fiscal year that began April 1. The initial 90-day postponement in April saved state taxpayers about $50 millionBut as explained here earlier this week, Cuomo should be seeking an across-the-board pay freeze through state legislation.

For starters, a statutory public-sector wage freeze would generate greater first-year savings for state government itself (about $359 million) since seniority-based raises have continued. And it would help school districts, local governments (including New York City) and other public entities such as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. All told, such a freeze would save about $1.9 billion in the first year.

Most school districts are bound by union contracts that in July required them to give teachers raises typically ranging from 2 to 5 percent including longevity increases. Now, some of those districts are also laying off teachers to close budget gaps.

There’s another reason for Cuomo to work with the Legislature and adopt a formal pay freeze. His “slushy” administrative approach relies on statutory powers that let his Budget Director and top labor relations official assert raises are “not warranted” or “not appropriate.”

But absent a clear legislative declaration, the state could still be on the hook to pay the raises retroactively when its financial position improves—especially if it receives unrestricted federal aid. That means the first few hundred million dollars sent by Congress to stabilize the state fisc could get gobbled up by raises instead of preserving services.

CSEA made it clear that the union expects the state to use any federal bailout funds to finance retroactive raises:

In the meantime, CSEA has been working with the state and our elected leaders at all levels to continue to push for federal stimulus funding to relieve the state’s massive budget deficit caused by the pandemic, to hasten the state’s ability to pay members what they are owed.

Ken Girardin is Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Empire Center for Public Policy.

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