Gov. David Paterson on Tuesday ordered layoffs that could total about 4 percent of state workers after unions refused concessions amid a staggering economic downturn that was projected to push the state’s deficit to $16 billion in the next year.
Budget Director Laura Anglin told The Associated Press that the layoffs of nearly 9,000 employees would be the first since the late 1990s after unions refused to even provide counterproposals.
It was unclear if the eventual number of layoffs could be offset by attrition or early retirement incentives. Those are among the details that would be worked out in coming weeks.
The layoffs, which Anglin said could save the state $481 million over two years, could begin July 1. The state currently employs nearly 200,000 people, but only 141,000 are directly under the governor’s control and that’s where the job reductions will be made.
Anglin said unions have been informed and could still try to return to the table in the coming days before a budget is negotiated.
“We felt there was no other option at this point considering the size and magnitude of the deficit,” Anglin said in an interview. “We asked everyone for a sacrifice and the unions were not willing to have that conversation.”
The unions held their positions.
“If Gov. Paterson really believes putting nearly 9,000 New Yorkers out of work is a good idea, he really is out of touch with life on Main Street,” said President Danny Donohue of the Civil Service Employees Association union, the state’s largest union.
“There is absolutely no need to do layoffs,” said Ken Brynien, president of the Public Employees Federation. “It will not save the money that the governor thinks it will.
“I think to some degree it is political maneuvering. He’s trying to get us back to the table,” Brynien said.
In mid-December, Paterson had proposed layoffs of 521 workers while counting on attrition of 4,205 workers. But the recession has slowed retirements and Paterson and legislative leaders announced Tuesday that the projected deficit for 2009-10 worsened by $2.2 billion, to a total of at least $16 billion for the coming year.
E.J. McMahon, director of the fiscally conservative Empire Center for New York State Policy, called the move “a long overdue step.”
McMahon said he was surprised, however, that Paterson never tipped his hand that he was willing to resort to layoffs, even as union leaders refused to deal and ran multimillion dollar TV ad campaigns against him and his proposed cuts.
“I don’t know how he had not, until now, even hinted at any kind of punishment for failure to make concessions,” he said.
Paterson has long sought to use the fiscal crisis to curb notorious overspending that has weakened state finances for years. Part of his plan was to seek mostly temporary concessions from the unions to avoid further deficits and even more serious problems.
Anglin said the unions refused proposals to eliminate 3 percent pay raises expected this year; defer a week’s pay until retirement, a practice known as “lag pay”; or reduce state payments into retirees’ health care.
The action is expected to save $163 million in the 2009-10 fiscal year and $318 million for 2010-11.
The layoffs would apply only to workers in agencies under direct control of the governor’s office such as highway crews, nurses, prison guards and forest rangers. Employees not under Paterson’s control include workers in the office of the attorney general, comptroller, state courts system or Legislature, Anglin said.
Paterson said no jobs are safe, but he is committed to protecting public safety.
State unemployment has risen during this recession to 7 percent in January, the latest number available, up from 4.7 percent a year before.
State jobs are most heavily concentrated in Albany and New York City, but they also represent a major part of local economies in many rural areas such as the Adirondacks and Southern Tier — particularly state prisons.