New York Daily News

August 14, 2002

Chuck's Pay Plan a Loser

The cops want more money. The firefighters want more money. The sanitation workers want more money. The teachers want more money (on top of what they've already gotten).

None of this is surprising. It's natural. Everyone wants more money. And there's no doubt that many of the requests are warranted, especially those from the cops, whose starting salary of $31,305 a year is puny by any measure.

But the city is strapped for cash and faces even greater, multibillion-dollar deficits next year. So the question isn't whether pay raises are deserved. Of course they are. The question is what the city can afford - and the reality is it can't afford very much at all.

No matter, says Sen. Chuck Schumer. If the city can't cough up what its workers deserve, those who print money - the federal government - can.

Flanked by the heads of the unions representing the police and firefighters at a news conference last weekend, Schumer called on President Bush to earmark $500 million of post-Sept. 11 federal aid to supplement raises for city cops and firefighters - an unprecedented proposal Bush's budget director has already said he opposes.

With the city and its municipal unions now in tough contract talks, one plan would give cops 10% pay hikes over two years. The $500 million would fund an additional 10% increase over two years. But it would be a one-shot contribution only - and the city will be in no position to keep it up in future years. Lynch's risky stand In supporting Schumer, Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch predicted dire consequences if the city doesn't come up with larger raises.

"This will be the death of [the NYPD]," he charged. "Those who can will leave. Those who must will take other jobs. Those who are left, unfortunately, won't have the morale to continue working."

Actually, the only death that might occur if the bigger hike doesn't happen is Lynch's. The PBA chief has staked his reputation on arbitrating the pay dispute, and it seems certain the state panel considering the issue will find in the city's favor when it rules in the next few days.

If the panel approves raises in line with what the city is offering its other workers, Lynch, who forced the arbitration route over the city's preference for collective bargaining, could find himself out of his job.

As for Schumer, his call is perfectly explicable, at least in political terms. By unconscionably inserting himself into the city's dealings with its workers, the senator has won chits he can call in when he seeks reelection in 2004.

"Yeah, it's great politics for Chuck," said a Bush adviser. "But there ain't no way we're gonna do it. That's not what the emergency appropriations are for, and Schumer knows it. He's just grandstanding - as usual."

In substantive terms, Schumer's plan could be disastrous. It could upset the pattern of pay for the city's other municipal workers, swell pension costs for decades and divert money needed for other purposes. Union opposes list Still, Mayor Bloomberg is willing to consider greater raises in exchange for productivity gains such as a longer workweek, less overtime, merit pay and other reforms - creative suggestions the union opposes.

The cops are going to stage a rally for more pay in Times Square tomorrow. That's their right. But as they protest, they should appreciate the city's fiscal condition and they should also realize that in the service of his own ambition, Schumer has raised their hopes falsely.