Newsday
May 14, 2010

Mayor Puts Onus On Albany With Proposed 6,400 Teacher Cuts

Budget Plan Would Close 20 Fire Cos., Cut Staff On 60 ‘Engines’

By DAVID SIMS and RICHARD STEIER

   
MICHAEL MULGREW: Up to state to act.  

Mayor Bloomberg’s May 6 budget plan that would achieve more than half its proposed 11,000 job cuts for all city agencies at the expense of Teachers—with 4,400 of them to be laid off—seemed so clearly intended as a shot across the bow of state lawmakers that the president of the United Federation of Teachers shrugged it off and said he would continue to focus his attention on Albany.

The Mayor criticized Governor Paterson’s spending blueprint, which would cut city school aid by $500 million and impose a $650-million hit on its revenue-sharing funds—cutting them entirely while other state counties would see reductions of no more than 5 percent in that area—as requiring the city to shoulder “a disproportionate share” of the burden. But he did the same with his Teacher proposal.

UFT Also Faults State

His spending plan, which will be negotiated over the next six weeks with the City Council, would eliminate 6,414 teaching jobs. Given the focus Mr. Bloomberg from the start of his administration has placed on education, it was not surprising that UFT President Michael Mulgrew holstered his outrage and said if anyone deserved blame for the looming crisis, it was the Governor and state legislators, who are already six weeks late in producing a budget.

‘You Can’t Blame the Mayor’

   
  PATRICK J. LYNCH: NYPD still struggling.

“We know this is the biggest, the most-challenging situation that the city school system has faced in 35 years, and children are going to be harmed,” he said. “But it’s not something where you can blame the Mayor . . . the city doesn’t have the state budget at this point, and that’s what’s causing these problems, and we need a state budget.”

Even in the absence of a state accord that would flesh out how much aid the city is likely to receive from Albany, however, Mr. Bloomberg has already scaled back potentially drastic cuts to two other essential agencies. In January, he had warned that if the Governor’s proposal was enacted intact, it would force him to cut more than 3,100 police jobs and 1,000 Firefighter posts while closing 62 fire companies. By last week, he had determined to keep NYPD staffing intact, and was planning to close just 20 fire companies, in the process losing 400 Firefighter jobs to attrition. He did, however, stick to his January plan to eliminate the fifth Firefighter assigned to 60 engine companies once the contract clause governing that staffing expires at the end of the year.

The Mayor said attempts to set a budget had been “seriously hampered by the state government’s continued inaction in addressing its own budget problems.” After being informed in the midst of his press conference in the City Hall Blue Room that state Budget Director Robert L. Megna had accused him of using the state “as a scapegoat to shirk responsibility for their own budget choices,” Mr. Bloomberg called that an “outrageous” charge. He had earlier told reporters that while the city had prepared “responsibly for the fiscal downturn” over the past three years, “spending in Albany has continued to spiral out of control. We face a terrible price for Albany’s irresponsibility.”

   
WANTS WORKERS TO FUND OWN RAISES: Mayor Bloomberg has included no additional money for employee raises in his budget plan, saying that ‘we’ve focused in the last eight years on paying our workforce as well as we can’ but the money no longer exists to do so. All future raises, he said, must be funded through productivity initiatives.

Pool photo/Marc A. Hermann

 

Besides the planned job cuts, which aside from the 4,419 Teacher layoffs would be accomplished primarily through attrition, Mr. Bloomberg is eyeing other employee-related forms of cost control. After previously planning for raises averaging 1.25 percent in upcoming bargaining rounds, he has now budgeted nothing for pay hikes, insisting that any gains in that area must be funded by productivity measures.

While he asked union leaders to negotiate lesser pension benefits for future workers—as their state counterparts did last year—and agree to have all members pay 10 percent of their health costs, he also called on Albany to pass pension legislation regardless of union consent, noting it had previously been done over union objections when Tier 2 was adopted in 1973.

‘Can’t Afford to Go On’

“We cannot continue doing everything we have been doing with the size workforce that we have,” Mr. Bloomberg declared. “We just don’t have the money.”

Despite the significant recovery on Wall Street last year, he said, “the pension fund assets haven’t done all that well” even while the city’s pension obligations continue to rise. In contrast to the city and state systems where pension benefits are determined through a combination of years of service and average salary over the final three years of workers’ careers, the Mayor noted, “In the private sector there are very few defined-benefit plans that still exist.”

Even with the deep cuts he has planned to the teaching force, the Mayor said, he is actually slightly increasing city spending on education under his plan, and 26 percent of proposed capital spending over the next five years would be devoted to that area.

Jobs lost to attrition aside from the projected 2,000 Teacher positions will include 1,210 uniformed force lines.

MLC: Budget Built on ‘Ifs’

Municipal Labor Committee Chairman Harry Nespoli said in a phone interview that he disagreed with the layoffs and firehouse closings in the budget but praised the Mayor for managing the city well and lessening the impact of the recession.

He acknowledged that currently, “Everything is really based on ‘ifs.’ What the state is actually going to cut. If it’s $1.3 billion, that is a lot for the city to lose, and it’s tough to make up,” he said.

“What makes it so difficult is that the state is reliant on the city, and that’s just very difficult,” he continued. “If we don’t get back our share, we should go up there together and talk to the people we elected, and say don’t shortchange us now; now’s not the time.”

The UFT is lobbying state officials by phone, faxes and e-mails as well as in person, in an attempt to rectify what Mr. Mulgrew called “disproportionate” cuts to schools. After the state budget is completed, he said, “whatever happens down here in the city, then we can handle it as a city.”

PBA: Good But Not Enough

Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch called the restoration of funds averting cuts in police staffing “a sound decision and a clear recognition by Mayor Bloomberg that government’s first responsibility is to protect its citizens.” But in a reference to the department’s record-high headcount a year before Mr. Bloomberg was first elected in 2001, he added that “the NYPD will continue to struggle with 6,000 fewer police officers while shouldering the added burden of fighting terrorism.”

Mr. Bloomberg said that the state was withholding about half of the money the city had paid it over the past year in order to reduce its own budget gap. “The Governor’s proposed a budget that in effect balances the State’s books by starving New York City,” he said.

An Assembly budget proposal that would restore $231 million from the Governor’s planned education cut could bring the needed Teacher layoffs down to as few as 1,100, the Mayor indicated. But negotiations with the State Senate do not appear to be moving forward and if there is no state agreement by June 30, the city could be forced to enact layoffs in anticipation of aid cuts.

Laid-off Teachers, Mr. Bloomberg said, might not return even if the state did end up restoring funds after the deadline, because some would have found other jobs, and the cost of putting the remainder back in schools under the current seniority system might be too high.

Quinn: Cuts ‘Devastating’

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said that state officials needed to realize the damage that would be done if a budget agreement was not reached soon. “The Governor, Assembly and State Senate must recognize these cuts are real, these layoffs are real and the absence of $1.3 billion is real. The proposed cuts announced today are, to put it lightly, devastating,” she said in a statement.

The Council’s Finance Committee Chairman, Domenic Recchia Jr., said, “I encourage New Yorkers to call their state representatives and demand they pass a fair, balanced budget as soon as possible.”

The Administration for Children’s Services would eliminate 32 units in Protective Services, 250 jobs in all, through attrition, increasing caseload averages from 9.5 to 10.6 per employee. Library subsidies will also be reduced by $31.2 million.

Mr. Nespoli said that the MLC last year had generated $400 million in health-care savings for the city, and was willing to sit down and talk about further savings the city could achieve, but was unsure there would be meaningful discussions on Tier 5 or having employees pay into their health plans. “With the threat of layoffs, the atmosphere for sitting down and doing it, it’s just not there,” he said.