We all appreciate the work being done by our “essential” government workers during the coronavirus crisis.
But government in New York doesn’t only face a health crisis at this time. It also faces a looming financial crisis.
And when government is facing a financial crisis, it’s no time to be excessively generous with the taxpayers’ money by handing out big, unnecessary raises to public employees.
But that’s what Saratoga County supervisors have done, by awarding employees deemed “essential” with a 50% pay boost for working their regular hours during the crisis.
The Board of Supervisors earlier this month authorized the county to pay hundreds of county workers time-and-a-half pay for their regular hours if they were working during the crisis.
The idea behind the plan was to reward workers for the long hours and ensure they actually came to work.
This pay hike was approved despite the objections of several county supervisors, some of whom said the increase was unsustainable and fiscally irresponsible.
The plan initially was expected to cost taxpayers an additional $325,000 per week.
But because more county employees have been deemed non-essential since the plan was authorized, the weekly additional cost comes to about $150,000. Still, that’s a lot of extra tax money being doled out, especially if the crisis lasts a long time.
We know employees, particularly those in public health and social services, are working long hours and working under stress.
And if this was a private company, we’d have no problem with it offering big bonuses or pay raises to its workers during the crisis.
But we’re not dealing with private funds. We’re dealing with taxpayer funds.
And many taxpayers themselves are feeling the financial stress of either having their hours reduced or being laid off because of business closures and cutbacks.
Government doesn’t have the luxury of being overly generous at this time, especially not with a 50% pay hike it wasn’t obligated to offer in the first place.
The state, facing at least a $15 billion budget shortfall due in part to a significant drop in sales tax and income tax, is likely to try to shift more expenses onto the counties, municipalities and school districts. Local governments also could see a big reduction in state aid.
Combined with lower state aid, a greater share of state expenses and their own loss of revenue due to the decline of business and loss of sales tax revenue, local governments and schools will face their own financial challenges.
That could force them to either cut essential services or seek to override the state property tax cap in order to raise more money from local taxpayers.
While Saratoga County might be flush with cash right now, that might not be the case very soon, particularly if the summer tourism season, which relies on the Saratoga racing season and SPAC concerts, turns out to be a bust.
Saratoga County supervisors need to go back and reverse this unwise pay hike.
Taxpayers might be overly grateful, but they’re in no position to be overly generous.