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Judge nixes Paterson’s furlough plans

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A federal judge put a temporary restraining order in effect Wednesday on Gov. David Paterson’s plan to furlough the jobs of state workers.

The furloughs were passed Monday by the state Legislature. Some members said they did not want to approve Paterson’s plan but had to or state government would shut down.

U.S. District Judge Lawrence Kahn’s order is in effect until lawyers argue the furlough issue May 26.

“We are disappointed with the court’s decision, which was granted without the benefit of a hearing. We look forward to our day in court,” Paterson spokesman Morgan Hook said in a statement. “It is imperative for the state to conserve revenues and maintain the orderly operation of government, and the governor remains committed to this objective. Gov. Paterson again calls for the leaders of New York’s public employee unions to share in the sacrifice that all New Yorkers are enduring in this extraordinary fiscal crisis.”

Faced with a $9.2 billion budget deficit and a state Legislature that is more than one month late on a budget agreement, Paterson proposed an emergency appropriation bill that would have authorized the furloughs for unionized state workers.

“I have repeatedly called upon the state public employee unions to work with me to achieve critical workforce savings,” the governor said in a statement last week. “Because unions have not accepted any proposals to achieve necessary savings, I am left with no other choice but to move forward with this plan. I do not take this action lightly, but it is necessary given the unions’ unwillingness to make any sacrifices and I will do whatever is necessary to protect New York’s finances.”

Paterson’s plan would have authorized commissioners of state agencies to schedule a furlough day for each of their employees for the work week beginning Monday. On the furlough day, the employees would not gave come to work and not be paid for that day.

Paterson said “essential” employees would have been exempt from the furloughs, including corrections officers, nurses and state troopers.

Management employees would also not have been affected because the governor said their scheduled salary increase was eliminated last year.

State Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing) said voting for the furloughs was “an extremely difficult decision.”

“Choosing the lesser of two evils, I decided to vote to keep government running and voted for the furloughs,” she said, adding she believed the furloughs were illegal and supported the lawsuit that has kept them from being enacted.

Assemblyman William Scarborough (D-St. Albans) estimated that 100,000 state workers would be affected by the furloughs.

“It’s another example of how bad our budget has been,” he said. “You are eliminating the workforce and putting them on the sidelines. You will have longer lines at DMV locations, longer waiting lines at state offices.”

Paterson announced the furloughs along with a temporary retirement incentive program for certain state and public employees.

The employees would either be able to retire at 55 if they have at least 25 years of service or receive an additional month of pension credit up to three years for each year of service, Paterson said.

The governor said the plans would save the state $250 million in next year’s budget and ensure the state has enough cash until a spending plan is approved.

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

Updated 5:50 pm, October 10, 2011
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