Helping Cuomo Lay the Groundwork

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country we bring you the unmissable quotes from political conversations on WNYC. On today's Brian Lehrer Show, Greg David, director of the business and economics program at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, looks at the groundwork being laid for changes to public worker benefits and unions by the incoming Cuomo administration and others.

"The Committee to Save New York" wants to pitch in with Cuomo's big tasks to cut the size of state government and close the deficit without adding new taxes. The group was formed by local business leaders, but has recently attracted support from construction unions.

Greg David says the split of the construction workers from the rest of labor stems from the Kingsbridge Armory project last year. The plan was killed after a fight over wages that cost thousands of construction jobs and alienated the workforce.

More broadly, the way to think about it is that construction workers pay taxes, public employee unions are paid through taxes, and that's a fundamental divide that I think is going to cause great angst to the labor movement as we go forward over the next couple years.

One caller disagreed in the simplicity of David's argument, saying public employee union members pay taxes too. David says there is still an inate conflict of interest between public employee unions and private sector unions.

It isn't the same situation. In the private sector, even using union theory here, the union is designed to prevent the exploitation of workers from profit-making organizations. Well there's no profit-making organization in government. What they're doing is they're getting benefits from taxpayers, not from a private entity... It's an unfair advantage because since the people who are handing out the benefits are elected officials, unions have double clout... they have clout at the bargaining table and clout in the political process.

He gave an example from former New Jersey Governor John Corzine's failed re-election campaign.

He went to a union meeting.. and he said 'and we're going to get a good contract for you!' He was supposed to be representing the taxpayers and their interests, and that's how the politics of public sector unions gets screwed up in the traditional labor management theory.

As for what Governor-elect Cuomo expects from unions during his term, David says we don't really know yet. But we do know he wants to pass a property tax cap. This would force many districts to find other ways to cut their costs. State worker unions want to see more taxes on the wealthiest, an idea Cuomo has responded to. Maybe this would come to fruition through the so-called "millionaire's tax" for families that make over $250,000, David says.

It expires in the coming year and I don't know whether Andrew Cuomo would believe that continuing that would meet his pledge or not. He has said he wants the millionaires tax to expire.