New York Gov. David Paterson said Thursday he will send layoff notices to nearly 900 state workers, including prison chaplains and motor vehicle clerks, angering unions that didn't expect job losses before the end of the year.
Public worker unions have promised they'll sue to stop any cuts, citing a legal memo signed by Paterson under an agreement for a less expensive pension plan for new hires that guaranteed no layoffs before Dec. 31, the last day of Paterson's term.
Paterson said his plan to lay off 898 workers is supported by state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, the Democrat and front-runner in the governor's race.
Cuomo said he sympathized with the families who might be affected but vowed to do his job as attorney general.
"I am his lawyer," Cuomo said. "When you have a lawyer, your lawyer defends your position," Cuomo said at a campaign stop in Syracuse. "I understand why the governor has made these decisions."
Cuomo did not say whether he would continue the order if he becomes governor Jan. 1, when the layoffs would technically begin.
"I understand the fiscal reality and I'll be defending it in court, if it comes to that," he said.
The state faces an $8 billion budget deficit next year on a budget of more than $130 billion, and a total of $30 billion in deficits over the next three years, Paterson said.
He has long said he would need to cut 2,000 positions during the fiscal crisis as the recession eroded tax revenues. Although he had said previously that most of the cuts would likely be layoffs, his plan now has most of the jobs eliminated through attrition and retirement.
"We're pleased to say only 45 percent of them will be (layoffs), but that's still a lot of jobs and I'm very sorry I have to do it," Paterson said Thursday. "But I feel I was forced into it."
He noted union leaders have rejected his requests to delay an annual raise or delay a paycheck by a week to save $250 million and avoid layoffs.
Public Employees Federation union President Kenneth Brynien called Paterson's plan "an outrage, completely unnecessary and illegal.
"PEF will hold the governor to the memorandum of understanding he has with the union not to impose layoffs through the end of this year," Brynien said. "Clearly, services are at risk with fewer state employees able to provide them. ... It's time for the governor to stop the charade and not pass on to a new administration the damaging results of his poor planning."
The Civil Service Employees Association called Paterson's announcement "simply an irresponsible statement" and said any further cutbacks will harm the public.
Association President Danny Donohue said that layoffs don't save the state money in the end and that eliminating jobs hurts the economy by further reducing state tax revenues.
The layoffs represent less than 1 percent of the 137,000 state workers under the governor's control.
Paterson said "essential" areas won't be cut. But agency heads are now planning to cut:
- Some chaplains in the prison system.
- A pet inspection program in the agriculture department.
- 80 jobs in the Department of Motor Vehicles, likely leading to longer lines at local offices.
- 90 state police slots, but aimed at civilian and desk jobs.
- 94 jobs in the parks office, including closing two golf courses that were losing money and may be privatized.
- 150 jobs in the Department of Environmental Conservation, whose commissioner was fired last week after writing a memo criticizing staff reductions.
- 140 jobs in the Department of Transportation, none of which should affect snow removal.
The state's total work force is nearly 200,000.