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From bad to worse

In case you’ve been tuned out since the beginning of the Memorial Day weekend, here’s the latest from Albany:

  • On Friday, a federal judge granted a request for a preliminary injunction blocking Gov. David Paterson plan’s to furlough roughly 100,000 state workers for one day a week. This plan was contained in emergency budget legislation approved by lawmakers, who at the same time made clear their belief that the furlough plan was illegal and even unnecessary.
  • A few days later, the governor said he was preparing a plan for layoffs to take effect Jan. 1, the date when his no-layoffs pledge to public employee unions expires. It also happens to be the date when New York’s next governor takes office.

To recap, then, the latest strategy for solving the state’s fiscal crisis involves the Legislature approving measures it believes are illegal and the governor laying plans for the next governor to carry out.

Perhaps that characterization is a bit uncharitable, but it is hard not to think such thoughts at this point. More than two months after the deadline, a finalized budget seems just as elusive as it was on April 1.

In his ruling, Judge Lawrence Kahn of U.S. District Court in Albany acknowledged the state’s dire fiscal situation and noted that "broadly speaking, a state government’s interest in addressing a fiscal emergency constitutes a legitimate public interest." But given lawmakers’ assertion that other reasonable options were available and the "conspicuous absence" of any record showing these options had been considered, the judge added, the furlough plan could not be upheld.

To that, the governor responded that legislative leaders should meet with the heads of the public employee unions to work out a plan for how union members will contribute to closing the state’s $9 billion budget gap.

"The state is facing severe cash flow difficulties," Mr. Paterson said, "and I have withheld or delayed payments to schools, non-profits, contractors and others in order to prevent the state from running out of cash."

The unions’ contribution to date has been to deny that the state is facing a crisis and to demand the immediate payment of public employee pay raises.

If this is the best Albany can do, expect a bad situation to grow steadily worse.

(c) 2010 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail rbj@rbj.net.

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