NEW YORK—The state Legislature has approved Governor David Paterson’s plan to furlough about 100,000 state workers once a week, cutting their salaries 20 percent. The furloughs, being hailed as unprecedented, are an emergency measure as the state budget is more than one month overdue and the state faces a $9 billion budget gap in the next fiscal year.
Most state lawmakers said they opposed the drastic measure but had no legislative choice since refusing the governor’s bill would effectively shut down the state government.
In anticipation of the furloughs, protesters took to the streets across New York State on Monday.
“Hey ho! Furlough Dave has to go” and “Furlough you!” chanted a crowd of several hundred in front of the 90 Church Street Federal Office Building in Lower Manhattan.
Backed by the Public Employees Federation and the Civil Service Employees Association, one of the largest unions in New York State representing 60,000 workers, some of the protesters gathered in front of the Federal Office Building to rally against Paterson.
The protest in front of the Federal Office Building in Lower Manhattan was one of many protests across the state of New York. PEF held rallies in Albany, Buffalo, Rochester, and in 10 other cities.
Many unions and workers have decried the furloughs, saying it would affect the livelihoods of too many people.
Patricia Baker, the Vice President of PEF, said that even though the budget needs to be passed and the state needs to operate, Paterson's furlough proposal would destabilize the economy even more.
“The state can least afford for the governor to furlough his employees at this time. Instead of saving money—the $250 million he wants to save—the state will actually lose $312 million because it puts a drain on the economy, on the communities from Buffalo to New York City,” she said.
Approximately 17,000 jobs would be lost in the private sector if the state lost that money, estimates PEF.
The governor has other options, Baker said. The first thing the Gov. Paterson should do is cut half the consultants in the state because they're high priced and replace them with cheaper state employees, she added.
Mike Marquez, a state labor department employee, said, “If I made less due to the furloughs, I wouldn't be able to spend as much in the local economy,” he said. “That would have negative impact on the economy.”
Marquez, who is a Brooklyn resident, said a day less of work each week would compound his ability to pay bills. “I have medical expenses and medical bills,” he added.
Gov. Paterson has said that furloughs would save the state $30 million a week as the state is trying to pass an overdue budget.
Unions have “repeatedly ignored the fact that there's a recession,” said Paterson on a radio show.
“I wake up in the morning getting yelled at,” Paterson said. “I’m not sure if it’s my wife or the radio.”
The state workers' unions didn't agree to forgo their 4 percent raises and the furloughs were a last-ditch option, Gov. Paterson said.