EDITORIAL: Keep state hiring freeze in place

State Capitol Building in Albany.
State Capitol Building in Albany.

There are very few things that compel government officials to restrain spending in New York.

The property tax cap — initiated by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2012 to prevent local governments and school districts from continuing to raise taxes excessively year after year – actually did have an impact.

It’s estimated the tax cap has saved New York taxpayers more than $25 billion.

Most recently, at the start of the covid crisis, the state enacted a hiring freeze. The freeze — which limited the ability of state departments and agencies to hire new employees without a waiver from the state Budget Division — was expected to save taxpayers more than a few billion dollars.

Waivers were granted only for positions involved in protecting public health and safety, generating revenue or for essential administrative or operational support.

As a result, the governor’s office reported, the number of full-time state workers in executive agencies dropped from 118,000 to 107,500 between March 2020 and last month. Positions were eliminated largely due to attrition, not through layoffs.

So if the hiring freeze has helped keep the state payroll in check and has saved New York taxpayers billions, why not keep it in place? The state didn’t shut down without those 10,000 extra workers. The government is still operating.

The answer to that question is self-evident: Because this is New York.

Gov. Kathy Hochul last week suspended the hiring freeze through the end of the state fiscal year in March, citing a report showing $2.1 billion in extra revenue that outpaced economic recovery projections.

But rather than allocate the new revenue to meet unfulfilled needs in the existing budget to help poor families or rebuild infrastructure, or use it to cut taxes, let’s remove one tool that actually compelled government to control some of its spending.

The governor is acting like the state is free from its fiscal problems. But as one government watchdog group put it, state finances are a disaster in waiting.

Last year, lawmakers increased state spending $19 billion to a record $212 billion, keeping us high-taxed New Yorkers in the same financial bind as we’ve always been.

And the state could still face long-term structural budget shortfalls of billions of dollars in the next few years, a situation eased only slightly by federal covid relief.

So what would be wrong with extending the hiring freeze until the state’s budget problems are actually under control, or even finding a way to make that waiver-requirement permanent?

It would be one small way to force the state to control its spending and perhaps encourage more fiscal responsibility in other areas.

Instead, the second the state got an unanticipated boost of revenue, the natural inclination to was to send it back out the door.

So New York. So wrong.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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