NY Legislature Approves Furloughs

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Thousands of state workers rallied at New York’s Capitol and around the state yesterday, protesting Governor Paterson’s plan to include one-day-a-week furloughs in the emergency spending bills issued to keep the state running while the budget is late.

Legislators reluctantly approved Paterson’s furlough plan, saying they didn't want to shut down the government. Karen DeWitt reports from Albany.

REPORTER: Around 2,000 state workers used their lunch hour to protest Governor David Paterson’s plan to include one day a week furloughs in the emergency spending authorization presented to the legislature.

Protesters erected a giant blow up balloon rat, and many held signs that said “Furlough This”, with an unflattering photo of the governor with his fingers in his ears. In the speeches, more vitriol was directed against the Governor, including from Civil Service Employees Association President Danny Donohue.

DONOHUE: Somebody said the rat is a good symbol of the governor, I say that’s an insult to a rodent, the governor thinks that all he has to do is say a pox on your house and walk away in November.

REPORTER: Union leaders say the state worker payroll accounts for only eight percent of the State's total budget, and they are being unfairly picked on. CSEA’s Donohue says what amounts to a 20 percent pay cut for 100,000 New York workers will hurt the economy.

DONOHUE: When you're laying off public employees, nobody wins. You lose the tax base that we can deliver and you stop the services the tax payers are demanding. It's not like a win-win, It’s a lose-lose situation. When they talk about less public employees out there to do the services, that means the public has less people to do what they want.

REPORTER: Paterson is already holding back state workers’ scheduled four percent pay raises, which were due in April, saying he can’t afford to give them out until the legislature agrees to close a $9.2 billion deficit, as well as settle on a new state budget, that's now over 40 days late.

The legislature asked their legal experts to look at whether the furlough language could be separated out of the emergency spending bills. That way, legislators could vote to keep government running, but reject the furlough proposal. But the lawyers failed to come up with a way out. Lawmakers, who believe the furloughs are illegal, were in the end forced to vote for them, or shut the government down, something Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver says he refuses to do.

SILVER: We’re not stopping government, I've said that over and over again and I stand by that now.

REPORTER: In the Senate, Albany Democrat, Senator Neil Breslin, who has many state workers in his district, offered a resolution declaring the furloughs illegal, and explained why lawmakers could not simply reject the bills and shut government down. He said it would create “chaos”, shutting down vital services and stopping unemployment checks among other things.

BRESLIN: If we voted against that extender bill and it failed, everyone with be without health insurance, Someone who might need an operation the next day would have to pay for it themselves, motor-vehicle departments will be closed down, state police would be on an impasse, construction projects, all construction projects would not be payed.

REPORTER: The resolution was approved on a voice vote. Speaker Silver spoke for the majority of legislators when he predicted that the courts will overturn the furlough provision.

SILVER: Because I think it interferes with the collective bargaining agreement under federal and state law, I don't think that's appropriate.

REPORTER: Union leaders planned to seek immediate court action, and are asking for a Temporary Restraining Order against the one day a week lay offs.