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Paterson says spending bills would furlough workers

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 - Gov. David A. Paterson said Tuesday he would include a plan to furlough state workers in emergency spending bills that are required to keep state government running in the absence of a budget.

If lawmakers reject the bills because of the furloughs, state government would shut for the first time in modern state history. A vote is expected on Monday.

The legislature ignored Paterson last week when he first proposed furloughing 100,000 unionized state employees for one day for each week that there is no deal on the 2010-11 budget. Lawmakers left the Capitol without taking up a separate bill on furloughs.

The budget is 35 days late, and Paterson said Tuesday he hoped the furloughs would force unions to agree to $250 million in concessions. New York faces a $9.2-billion deficit.

"Everyone is sacrificing in this deficit reduction . . . they are basically telling us they should not take a cut at all," he said, referring to the state employee unions.

Paterson has asked them to forgo a 4-percent wage increase, postpone one week's pay until retirement and other cost savings. Previous emergency spending bills have suspended the salary hike until a new budget is in place.

Lawmakers reacted coolly to the governor trying to force their hand by including furloughs in the bills - but they were unlikely to torpedo them.

"I am going to vote for the [bills] because I will not shut government down," said State Senate chief John Sampson (D-Brooklyn). However, he called the furloughs "an illegal act" and said a lawsuit should be brought.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) declined to say whether his Democratic majority would support the bills. But knowledgeable sources said the Assembly would go along rather than be blamed for halting government operations.

The furloughs would begin on May 17 with heads of state agencies deciding what day employees would be forced to stay home with no pay. Schedules would be juggled to avoid a disruption in services.

The plan would save about $30 million per week. Of the affected workforce, which totals more than 130,000, 30 percent - including State Police troopers, prison guards, nurses and other critical occupations - would be exempted. Employees not under Paterson's control, such as those who work for the legislature and courts, also would be unaffected.

On Long Island, furloughs would likely impact some of the 11,556 members of the Civil Service Employees Association and Public Employees Federation, primarily at SUNY.

CSEA president Danny Donohue vowed a fight, accusing Paterson of "creating more chaos and crisis" in Albany.

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