The New York Times

February 23, 2002

Mayor Says City Can't Afford Higher Raises for the Police


Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said yesterday that the city would have a "tough time" giving police officers raises larger than those proposed by the previous administration, even if a state arbitration panel were to rule that a larger-than-budgeted salary increase was warranted.

On his weekly radio show, Mayor Bloomberg laid out his rationale on why the city, which faces a $4.76 billion budget deficit, would be hard pressed to pay police officers more than the amount currently planned: a roughly 10 percent salary increase over the next two years.

Police officers received no raises in the first two years of their last contract, which was for 63 months and expired on July 31, 2000. The mayor noted that the police "settled for no raises" during times that were economically booming.

On point after point during his radio show, the mayor made note of arguments that have been made in the past as to why officers should receive large raises and pointedly deflated them. Referring to the fact that Nassau County police officers are paid considerably more than officers in New York City — which has prompted calls for raises in the city — he noted that the county was "fundamentally bankrupt."

"The city does not have any extra money, we all know that," said the mayor, who made his comments on WABC. "Right now, the city economy is declining, not growing, and we're going to have a tough time coming up with anything more if the arbitration panel rules that."

The city is at impasse in negotiations with the 25,000-member Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, said Robert W. Linn, the union's chief negotiator. The city is scheduled to begin legally binding arbitration hearings on March 18, before a state appointed three-member panel that is headed by Dana E. Eischen, an arbitrator from Ithaca, N.Y., Mr. Linn said.

The mayor's comments, his first substantive public comments on the police salary issue since his budget address last week, seemed to foreshadow what the city's argument would be in front of that arbitration panel. A decision, which will serve as the new contract, is expected by June, Mr. Linn said.

"By any standard, whether looking at nearby municipalities or national cities, New York City police officers are woefully underpaid," Mr. Linn said. "And we believe we will present a compelling case that will persuade Chairman Eischen that the city must provide a market adjustment to provide competitive salaries."

Asked how the city would manage fiscally if the arbitration panel ruled that it must pay more to its police officers than what was budgeted, Edward Skyler, the mayor's chief spokesman, reiterated the mayor's comments. "The mayor will support our police officers in any way he can," Mr. Skyler said. "But the fact is that the city is facing a $5 billion budget deficit and the current offer is all we can afford."

The current entry-level base salary for city police officers is $31,305 a year, not including differentials for working at night or holiday pay. In contrast to many other cities, the pay for New York City officers does not jump substantially until after the fifth year of service, when it increases to $49,023, Mr. Linn said.

Police union officials have long said that low pay is the prime reason for a recent exodus of officers. In a statement, Patrick J. Lynch, the union president, said: "Mayor Bloomberg must realize that any offer that shortchanges New York City police officers will not, in the long run, be a cost-effective policy. It will only intensify the recruitment and retention crisis. You need a well- paid, professional police force to continue the historic crime reductions and quality-of-life improvements, and to be successful in the domestic war against terrorism."

The mayor said the city should stay tuned. "Will they get more out of Albany or less?" the mayor asked, referring to the arbitration panel. "The city thinks less, the P.B.A. thinks more. We'll find out how that plays itself out."