With the clock ticking down to potential layoffs in New York State, Governor Paterson and public employee unions have been attempting to hammer out a deal. A possible fight over a pension bill, however, could jeopardize the agreement.
In response to New York's recent financial troubles, Paterson ordered the layoffs of 8,700 state workers back in March. Those cuts were ordered to be made by July, 1st.
A new deal being discussed by both sides could save those jobs, but make a major change in the state's pension system. This possible deal would include $20,000 buyouts for state workers who voluntarily leave the payroll.
The unions would have to agree to the Governor's proposed "Tier V" pension program that would give state employees just entering the workforce more modest benefits.
If these terms are accepted, Paterson would drop his layoff proposal.
On Wednesday, however, Paterson vetoed a police and firefighter pension bill that has some people upset tonight.
The firefighters' union says no other governor has treated organized labor so badly. Council 82, the police officers' union expressed a similar reaction.
Council 82's Executive Director James Lyman called the veto a "slap in the face."
Governor Paterson shocked just about everybody by vetoing an extension of pension benefits for newly hired cops and firefighters.
For almost 30 years, the legislature has been passing and governors have been signing it into law. Now Paterson's veto would mean reduced benefits for new hires; for instance, 25 years for full retirement instead of the current 20 and retirement at age 50 versus about 45 now.
For decades, the legislature has routinely approved the extension, in the belief that police and firefighters have shorter life spans, but Assembly Majority Leader Ron Canestrari (D) says there will be no attempt to override Paterson's veto.
"We passed it for a number of years," he said, "I thought it was a done deal, but obviously the Governor has a different agenda in that regard and is determined to do something about the cost of the pension system."
Police and firefighter pensions cost taxpayers double the ordinary public pension. One financially conservative group, the Empire Center for New York State Policy, noted that there are least 100 bills in the legislature right now, not to cut pensions but to increase them.
"What were they thinking?" said the Empire Centers' Lise Bang-Jensen, "It's hard to think they are serious about (the bills). Where's the money gonna' come from?"
CSEA says it's premature, but sources have told NEWS10 that the largest public employee union is on board with a plan to trade layoffs for greatly reduced pension benefits for newly hired state workers.
Current workers seem to agree.
"I hate to see a Tier V system," said one woman, "but at this point I have to look at myself and my own needs, so at this point I am in support of that."
"It's probably a good deal for the unions because Tier V is going to come sooner or later anyway," one man said.
The plan includes cash buyouts of about $20,000 for veteran workers, plus new hires could retire at age 62, instead of 55. In addition, employee contributions after the tenth year would be reinstated and using overtime to boost pension payments would be restricted.
The legislature had virtually ignored Governor Paterson's call for reduced pension benefits until now.
"Progress is being made and I won't jeopardize those talks, but certainly the union is showing a willingness to change," Canestrari said.
Peter Baynes, of the New York State Conference of Mayors, says he applauds the Governor and adds that something has to be done about public pensions. The retirement system lost one quarter of its value in the downturn, which is money that will have to be replaced by cities, towns and villages; many that are already spending 20% of property taxes on pensions.
"That's why it's critical that Governor took a stand here and said, you know, the property tax burden, everybody says that's the number one problem in New York. We gotta' start making some unpopular but necessary decisions," Baynes said.
CSEA says the union has not signed on to the deal yet. Negotiations are still going on with PEF, the Public Employees Federation, and sources tell NEWS10 that both unions want to show a solid front when they finally announce the deal.