New York State worker unions scored a win yesterday, when a federal judge in Albany temporarily blocked furloughs of their members. Now that furloughs are off the table, the state may have to reduce its payroll through layoffs.

No matter how the money is saved, this flash point of disagreement is part of a much bigger battle. New York's government must cut its labor costs or face ever-growing budget deficits.

Gov. David A. Paterson sought to have some 100,000 state workers - including 11,600 Long Islanders - stay home one day a week without pay. The furloughs would have harmed thousands of people by reducing their paychecks - at least until the state could agree on a new budget, which is now six weeks overdue.

On the other hand, the measure would have saved the state $30 million a week, which would have been the first real savings the Paterson administration had ordered toward closing a $9.2-billion budget chasm.

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Public employee unions are ever so slowly recognizing that they must contribute toward closing this gap. Union leaders should discuss shrinking pension costs, which threaten to swamp local government and school budgets. They should also decide if layoffs are palatable - and how many.

Paterson promised no layoffs in 2010, in exchange for some benefit concessions for future hires. But the governor may have to rethink that vow now. The state of the state is becoming desperate. hN