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NYT: “How Many State Workers? Albany Doesn’t Know”

July 27, 2010

The Times had this piece of interest today:

ALBANY — As Gov. David A. Paterson calls lawmakers back to work on the budget this week, he has announced that the fiscal situation is so serious that he must begin laying off state workers. But there is one wrinkle, as officials try to pare government spending: No one knows for sure how big the state work force actually is.

That is because the state has not one but two public payrolls.

One is controlled by the governor, encompassing about 131,000 employees, who toil for agencies like the Health Department, the parks department and the Department of Motor Vehicles. That payroll has shrunk by about 25 percent in the last two decades — so has the much smaller legislative payroll — and usually shoulders the brunt of layoffs.

The other lies beyond the direct control of the governor and includes perhaps 163,000 more workers employed by independent public authorities and agencies — though that number is an estimate, because not all authorities have been reporting their payrolls to a central state registry. And projections of state employment by the federal government do not always match the state government’s figures. The work force beyond the governor’s control has largely bucked the statewide retrenchment, according to a review compiled by The New York Times.

That is particularly true of some of the largest public employers. The State University of New York has grown by 14 percent over the last two decades, while the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which serves a dozen counties, has seen its work force rise by about 5 percent. The state judiciary has increased by 31.6 over that period.

The fact that one state payroll has been contracting while the other expands reflects the unwieldiness of New York’s government and the challenges state officials encounter if they try to shrink its costs. Much is not known about the sprawling system of public authorities, which number in the hundreds.

Legislation last year forced them for the first time to turn over their employment data to a central registry. But that represents only current staffing, making it difficult to determine whether the authorities have been shrinking or expanding over time.

Public authorities do not directly rely on taxpayer dollars; they draw their revenue from dedicated sources they are created to oversee, like bridge tolls or subway fares. But they do represent state resources, and when giants like the Metropolitan Transportation Authority falter, it falls to the state, or to its residents, to bail them out in the form of fare and toll increases. And their workers do collect state benefits like public pensions.

Some of the larger authorities were cooperative with The Times’s survey in providing data on employment, while some others seemed unaccustomed to public inquiry.

The New York Power Authority, for instance, said its work force had climbed slightly over the last decade, after it had shrunk with the sale of its two nuclear power plants.

But the Thruway Authority refused to turn over its statistics without a Freedom of Information Law request, and took nearly a month to provide the data.

What is clear is that the authority system has been largely immune from significant cuts.

“The state borrows less and less and hires less and less, and state authorities borrow more and more and hire more and more,” said Assemblyman Richard L. Brodsky, a Democratic candidate for attorney general who championed the legislation forcing more disclosure.

“I’m sure Robert Moses was a nice man, but these are Frankenstein monsters,” Mr. Brodsky added, referring to the official credited with developing New York’s public authority system.

Over all, the state budget grew to a projected $136.5 billion for the current fiscal year from $48.9 billion 20 years ago.

The entities that have grown point to specific reasons for the change.

The state university system, which is not set up as a public authority but is also not under the governor’s direct control, cited the expansion of its doctorate-granting institutions and several new federal mandates that led to its growth, most of which has come in the last decade, when it expanded to nearly 42,000 employees from about 35,000.

David M. Henahan, a spokesman for the university system, said that its enrollment had jumped about 20 percent since 1997 and that amid the state’s budget troubles, SUNY was cutting some jobs in its central administration through attrition and was beginning furloughs.

The judiciary’s expansion came as the court system grappled with the need for more security officers after the Sept. 11 attacks, a move to take over security in upstate courtrooms from local law enforcement and the creation of so-called problem-solving courts intended to address the root causes of crime, like drug abuse, said Judge Lawrence K. Marks, the administrative director of the state’s Office of Court Administration.

The court system’s caseload has also increased by 47 percent over the last two decades, Judge Marks said. “We have a lot more filings over the last decade, but we don’t have a lot more judges,” he said, adding that more nonjudicial staff was brought in to help manage the caseload.

Much of the growth at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, by far the state’s largest public authority, can be attributed to its acquisition of six private bus lines in 2005 and 2006 that had been managed by New York City.

Ridership has also grown by 50 percent in the last decade and a half. With the authority facing another budget crisis, its chairman, Jay H. Walder, has laid out a plan to reduce the work force of about 69,000 employees by about 3,000.

“Jay has made a very big and clear point about running a more efficient operation and consolidating functions,” said Jeremy Soffin, a spokesman for the transportation authority.

Even among the agencies under the governor’s control, there are inequities in layoffs, said Edmund J. McMahon, director of the Empire Center for New York State Policy, a conservative-leaning research group. The Education Department has absorbed substantial cuts, as have the Office of Mental Health and the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities, as they shifted services to nonprofit providers.

The job cuts being discussed by Mr. Paterson will come from the executive branch. He initially said the layoff plan would have to be carried out by his successor, since he had promised unions they would not suffer layoffs this year after they agreed to some pension reforms.

But this week, he said the state’s cash shortage, with no new union concessions, meant his administration would have to begin planning job cuts. “Some unfortunate people who don’t deserve it are going to get laid off, and it burns me to have to say that,” he said Monday.

Whether Andrew M. Cuomo, the Democratic candidate for governor, who is leading in polls by a wide margin, would carry out a layoff plan remains to be seen. Mr. Cuomo has close ties to labor, and his campaign has raised alarms about a coming “retirement tsunami” that will drain the state work force.

In a statement, Mr. Cuomo was noncommittal. “Everything is on the table,” he said, “including reducing salaries and benefits as well as staffing reductions through attrition and layoffs.”



One Comment
  1. HG-WT, Wire Paladin permalink
    July 27, 2010 11:05 pm

    ALBANY, N.Y. — It looks like Buffalo millionaire Carl Paladino has forced a Republican primary against Rick Lazio in the race for governor, challenging the party leaders’ choice to take on Democrat Andrew Cuomo.

    Right now it looks like there’s only one candidate that has what it takes to put the meat cleaver to the New York State workforce and his name is Carl Paladino. Let’s tie down the emergency valves and go full speed ahead on the Paladino Express to the Governor’s Mansion

    Rick Lazio isn’t worth the breath to say his name, but he’s Craig Eaton’s and Gerry Kassar’s candidate; how many more reasons do you need to vote against him?

    With any luck Paladino’s next train wreck won’t be until after election day.

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