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Legislature expected to OK state worker furloughs

Gov. David Paterson stands in his office in

Gov. David Paterson stands in his office in Albany, Tuesday, April 13, 2010. Photo Credit: AP

ALBANY - The State Legislature is expected Monday to approve Gov. David A. Paterson's plan to furlough 100,000 unionized state employees - but with little help from area lawmakers.

Of Long Island's 30-member legislative delegation, 18 oppose the emergency spending bills needed to keep state government running through May 16 and compel workers to stay home one day without pay during the period. That's two more "no" votes than last week's bills received and up from eight votes in late March, when the first bills were adopted.

Those opposing the legislation, mostly Republicans, said they were fed up with being excluded from budget negotiations by Paterson, a Democrat, and leaders of the Legislature's Democratic majorities. The 2010-11 fiscal plan should have been in place April 1.

"I am angry and frustrated over the budget delays," said State Sen. Owen Johnson (R-West Babylon).

Democrats also are agitated but many said it was "irresponsible" to vote down the spending bills and close government.

"I'm going to hold my nose [and vote 'yes'] because I don't believe shutting down Albany is the answer," said Assemb. Michelle Schimel (D-Great Neck).

The largest state-employee unions will ratchet up lobbying of the Legislature Monday with rallies outside the Capitol and 13 other sites, including the State Office Building in Hauppauge.

Danny Donohue, president of the Civil Service Employees Association, appealed to the public Sunday, saying, "state employees didn't cause the state's fiscal crisis and slamming them won't solve it."

Cutting wages by 20 percent through the one-day-a-week furlough won't erase the $9.2-billion deficit, he said, touting alternatives such as buying medicine from Canada and firing temporary employees.

Paterson aide Morgan Hook shot back, saying the dispute "is only about New York turning the corner towards economic recovery, and [Donohue] can choose to be a leader or continue to stand in the way, which will ultimately hurt the entire state, including his members."

Management and confidential employees have not received raises for the past two years while members of CSEA and other unions balked at giving up their 4-percent hike last month. The unions also rejected Paterson's proposal to delay one week's salary until retirement.

On the Island, the furlough plan would impact about 11,600 workers, primarily at Stony Brook University and other SUNY campuses.

Lawmakers acknowledged trepidation ahead of Monday's vote. That concern, particularly in an election year where incumbents face angry voters, is well placed.

"Either way lawmakers go, they risk offending a major group that they need to win re-election," said pollster Lee M. Miringoff of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion. "There is no leeway because government in Albany has lost its credibility with the voters."

Four lawmakers are undecided, with each saying he was torn between furloughing workers and shutting state government. Either choice "is repugnant," said Assemb. Steven Englebright (D-Setauket).

Republicans are pushing alternatives.

Sen. John Flanagan of East Northport wants to freeze employee wages at all levels of government. Five area assemblymen, led by David McDonough of Merrick, have proposed allowing state employees to voluntarily give up one day's wages but still receive full benefits.

Assemb. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore) said that if Paterson's furlough plan is implemented, then lawmakers should permanently give up one day's pay. "If state workers sacrifice, so should we."

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