Albany lawmakers missed many reform opportunities in the session that just ended, but their failure to fix binding arbitration is likely to be the one issue taxpayers may rue the most.
Binding arbitration is rigged to favor public labor unions, mostly firefighters, police and transit workers, when difficult contract negotiations are declared at an impasse. The current law, considered "temporary" since 1974, was set to expire at the end of the month.
In response to local officials statewide asking for relief, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo initially proposed a renewal that would have required an arbitrator to consider a municipality's ability to pay before making an award. It also would have capped awards for pay raises at 2 percent a year. Right now, the sky's the limit, because arbitrators contend the jurisdictions can always raise taxes.
But why do problems have to become extreme before some sense and balance can be brought to the state's flawed arbitration process? With strong union support in both the Assembly and Senate that would have overridden any gubernatorial veto, binding arbitration was extended yet again. The ability-to-pay provision was limited to only "financially distressed" communities -- meaning those that have the dangerous combination of high taxes and low reserves.
Arbitration resulted in Rockville Centre village police earlier this year receiving a total 6.6 percent raise over two years and 3.25 percent retroactive raises for each of two years. When clothing and equipment allowances and longevity pay were added, it meant even thousands more. In 2012, the average salary for a village cop was around $142,000.
There's no doubt a wholesale reform of the system is needed, including addressing the state's Taylor Law, which governs collective bargaining and locks in benefits even after a contract expires.
Temporary extensions and tweaks aren't enough.