As Albany remains deadlocked over a $9.2-billion budget hole, Gov. David A. Paterson is doing the right thing to force a showdown with state employee unions. The emergency budget bill he's expected to submit today omits funding for 4 percent union raises - in essence, it's a temporary wage freeze.

When New York entered the new fiscal year this month without a budget, Paterson and the State Legislature were obliged to pass a series of emergency bills, appropriating money for essential services to keep government's doors open. Today, the previous bill expires and a new one is due.

Everyone should be sharing in some sacrifice to get through this economic slump. But New York's unions don't want to give up anything. Twenty states have enacted or are considering layoffs or wage-and-hour reductions. In context, a wage freeze or a bigger contribution to health coverage seems more than fair.

Thousands in the private sector have lost jobs. It used to be that the public sector offered lower pay in exchange for security. But the federal Labor Department now reports that nationwide, public-sector employees earn $12.34 more per hour, on average, than private-sector workers.

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The governor's bill is also expected to restore funding for road construction - another good move. We shouldn't ignore essential infrastructure investment, even in a crisis.

A sensible acknowledgment of tough times isn't the same as giving up on good wages and benefits. State workers' unions should come to the table. hN