Governor Paterson is at it again. While trying to get the New York state legislature to pass a budget over 40 days pass the required deadline, he pushed through a stop-gap appropriations plan that calls for furloughs on over 100,000 state employees. The proposed furlough plan would require employees to lose one day a week of pay, which could result in a larger 20% reduction in the average salary of workers each paycheck.
As a tenured professor at a state funded university, I am personally affected by this. When I received email from Professional Staff Congress, the union that represents professors and higher education staff, earlier in the week informing me of the impending furlough, strangely enough I felt like the character James Evans, from the 1970s show, “Good Times”, who most episodes came home shattered about the lost foreman job or lost wages. Humorously, I channeled the character when I came home that evening, slammed the door and blurted out to my wife (who for that moment was transformed into James’s sitcom wife, Florida Evans), “Baby, I’ve been furloughed”. Her reaction was more incredulity than sympathy since I am still among the employed — for now, at least.
Of course this is not fiction. Thousands of real families are affected by this looming furlough, and it has real impact on districts that are reeling from double digit unemployment. Also, other cash-strapped states have pressed the furlough button in an attempt to save money, the most controversial ones in Georgia and California. Yet, Governor Patterson projects a savings of $30 million a week, which he argues will help to close the $9.2 billion budget gap.
But the furlough plan has generated more lawsuits than savings. Several unions, including PSC-CUNY, have garnered an injunction from a judge to hold off the furloughs until a full hearing can be done on the issue in late May, arguing that it violates work laws in both the U.S. and state constitutions. Moreover, Paterson is not getting much sympathy for his dramatic move toward furloughs when he just agreed to give his top aids pay raises of more than 15%. Not a good look, Governor, when families are struggling. Maybe we need to reduce elected officials’ pay every week until they agree to pass a budget. Now that’s a novel idea.