Council Members Press Early-Retirement Bill; Mayor’s 5-Day Furlough Panned – The Chief – 09.21.2020

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Council Members Press Early-Retirement Bill; Mayor’s 5-Day Furlough Panned

By BOB HENNELLY Sep 21, 2020

Citing the city’s deteriorating finances, Mayor de Blasio Sept. 16 announced a one-week furlough for the close-to 500 employees who work directly for him. He will also lose a week of his $258,750 salary, a bit less than $5,000.

“This is a step you never want to see for good hard-working people,” he told reporters. “The folks who work here throughout this crisis they have not been working 35 hours, 40-hour weeks. They have been working 80-hour weeks, 90-hour weeks, 100-hour weeks because they believe in the city and they have been fighting for all of you.”

Drop in the Bucket

The move will save the city, which faces a $9-billion budget gap over a two-year period, a shade more than $860,000.

The move, a day after he reiterated his warning that without progress in Albany on his proposal to permit the city to borrow up to $5 billion, he would have to lay off 22,000 city workers, drew little applause.

“This is no time for empty gestures,” wrote City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who is running to succeed Mr. de Blasio next year. “As the Mayor well knows, cutting 1/100th of a percent of the City budget is meaningless in the context of a $4.2-billion budget deficit. Furloughing City workers with little payoff instead of scrubbing the budget for real waste and inefficiency is emblematic of the Mayor’s approach to budgeting: a lazy substitute for real work.”

Mr. de Blasio’s call for increasing city borrowing authorization has already run resistance.

Andrew Rein, president of the Citizens Budget Commission, a pro-business think tank, wrote in a Sept. 15 Daily News op-ed that the Mayor’s layoff threat presented a “false choice.”

‘Increase Efficiency’

He said Mr. de Blasio had yet to direct commissioners to “comb their agencies to increase efficiency of city services, or reduce spending on lower priorities,” or impose a “stricter hiring freeze” which “could reduce the workforce by 7,000 employees a year, while still allowing the city to fill two-thirds of its vacancies.”

The Mayor’s borrowing proposal also drew criticism from his left wing in the Democratic Party.

“Layoffs on this scale are an unprecedented threat to workers, their families, and the City economy,” Assembly Member Richard Gottfried wrote in an email. “This is a big part of why the Legislature needs to come back into session and raise major revenue by taxing high wealth.”

“De Blasio’s fear-mongering with threatened layoffs is yet another example of his failed administration, pandemic or no,” wrote Sen. John C. Liu in response to a query from this newspaper. “The plain truth is that layoffs are avoidable even without incurring additional debt. De Blasio wants permission to borrow $5 billion mainly because he is incapable of making choices.”

As the Mayor and city unions continue to negotiate for ways to close the revenue gap, support continues to build for the city and state to offer early-retirement incentive packages to limit layoffs while cutting payroll.

‘A Bad First Solution’

Republican City Council Member Joseph Borelli and Democratic City Council Member Robert Cornegy held a City Hall press conference on Sept. 15 on the retirement incentive that they maintained would yield hundreds of millions of dollars in annual savings.

“We are in a budget crisis the likes of which we have not seen in nearly two decades, and unfortunately we have an administration which seems hell-bent on pushing layoffs as first solution and not the last and worst-case scenario,” Mr. Borrelli said.

The Staten Island legislator cited the 2010 retirement incentive offered by then-Gov. David Paterson to help the state weather the fallout from the national recession when “9,311 city and state employees took advantage of the ERI,” he said. “This took $1.4 billion of collective payroll and replaced it with $755 million in pension costs,” a net savings of $680 million annually.

“We are across the aisle-Democrat and Republican understanding how this system could stave off these disastrous layoffs,” said Mr. Cornegy. 

Albany would be required to sign off on a retirement incentive, and there are bills pending in the Legislature.

“This is only common sense,” said Joseph Colangelo, president of Service Employees International Union Local 246, which represents city mechanics. “Offer the early retirement to the older workers who are most at risk from COVID and spare the younger civil servants just starting out who have small children.”