If Gov. David Paterson eliminates nearly 9,000 state worker jobs — 4 percent of the state work force — to close a 2009-10 budget gap, the Capital Region will be hit hard.
Nobody is saying yet where layoffs would occur, but there are more than 50,000 state workers in and around Albany — about 30 percent of the total state work force. And they live in communities throughout the Capital Region.
Not surprisingly, local state legislators reacted negatively to Paterson’s Tuesday night announcement made as the April 1 deadline to approve a new budget approaches.
“The only person who should lose their job is the governor,” said Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco, R-Schenectady, a frequent critic of the Democratic governor and a current candidate for Congress.
He and others said cutting the state work force will only add to the economic troubles that have created a projected $16 billion state budget gap.
“During a downturn, the last thing you want to do is exacerbate the situation,” said Tedisco spokesman Dan Bazile. “These people will end up collecting unemployment and that will increase the state’s unemployment costs.”
Assemblyman Bob Reilly, D-Colonie, represents an Albany and Saratoga County district that has perhaps the highest percentage of state workers in the entire state.
He believes Paterson brought up layoffs to try to force state employee unions back to the negotiating table. He said both the unions and the governor need to be more flexible.
“I don’t think the Assembly will let that happen,” Reilly said of layoffs. “It would be very harmful during a downturn.”
“I don’t think at this time it would be the wisest thing to do,” said Assemblyman George Amedore Jr., R-Rotterdam, who represents Schenectady and Montgomery counties. “There’s a whole lot of fat and waste that could be eliminated versus laying off hardworking men and women.”
State Sen. Roy McDonald, R-Saratoga, said the layoffs wouldn’t hurt the high-paid administrative employees, and the loss of state worker spending would hurt businesses throughout the region.
“Most of these people will be working people,” McDonald said. “They’ll go on social services and welfare. We will have accomplished nothing.”
State Budget Director Laura Anglin said 8,900 jobs need to go — through retirement, attrition or layoffs. That would save the state more than $500 million over two years, according to her office.
There haven’t been state layoffs since 1995-96.
State agency heads were told to prepare plans for job eliminations this summer because Paterson said unions have refused to give up any previously negotiated raises or benefits.
The unions say they’ve suggested alternatives for the governor to consider, including some tax increases.
“They can’t cut their way out of this mess. You’ve got to raise more revenue,” said Civil Service Employees Association spokesman Stephen Madarasz.
Layoffs would be at the agencies under the governor’s control — meaning some large state agencies, including the attorney general’s and comptroller’s offices, state university system and the courts, won’t be affected. There are about 141,000 people working for agencies subject to layoffs, which include corrections, transportation and environmental conservation. About 6 percent of those jobs would disappear.
The CSEA, the largest employee union, is urging members to contact their state legislators. CSEA has 28,000 members in the Capital Region.
“Who are they, where are they, we don’t know. It’s just a budget-driven number,” Madarasz said. “But it’s fair to say the Capital Region would be disproportionately affected.”
Paterson could unilaterally make the job reductions but would be unlikely to do so without consulting the Legislature. Legislators have the ability to appropriate money for specific programs or positions, even over the governor’s objections.
“We do need to reduce costs and I think public employees need to be part of the solution, but I don’t know if this is the right solution,” said Assemblyman Peter Lopez, R-Schoharie.