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October 8th, 2012
Gov. Cuomo and Capitol leaders discussing raises for lawmakers and state agency commissioners
A LBANY — After agreeing to freeze their own salaries for several years, state government-worker unions are livid over talk of a possible pay raise for lawmakers and agency commissioners.
Gov. Cuomo and legislative leaders are said to be considering a special session after the November elections that would include the first pay hike for state lawmakers and commissioners since 1999.
“Should they do that, their credibility would be significantly undermined,” said Stephen Madarasz, spokesman for the 66,000-member Civil Service Employees Association.
“To tell our members basically they’d have to eat it for the term of this contract and then go out and give themselves a raise, I think our people would meltdown over that,” Madarasz added.
To help close siz able deficits, Cuomo demanded the unions sacrifice. He not only negotiated multiyear contracts with no raises, but also pushed the Legislature to reduce pension benefits for future employees.
Madarasz argued raises would also be a kick in the shin at a time when Cuomo told his state agencies to expect another year of zero growth in their 2013 budgets.
Pay raise supporters argue the unions received big hikes in the 13 years lawmakers and commissioners have gone without. Cuomo said higher salaries would make it easier to recruit top talent. Some commissioners actually make less than their deputies.
The unions aren’t buying it, and polls show the public overwhelmingly on their side.
“You can rationalize anything you want to rationalize,” Madarasz said.
Susan Kent, president of the 56,000-member Public Employees Federation, said that “while I am not in favor of denying a group of workers a pay raise for over 13 years, I also cannot advocate for a raise for New York State legislators when many of them insisted on balancing the New York State budget on the backs of my members.”
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has seen a mass exodus from his office in recent months, particularly in his communications shop.
The latest set to leave is press officer Michelle Duffy, who is going to work for Cuomo. She follows press shop alumni Danny Kanner and Dani Lever, who both left to join the Obama campaign, Jennifer Givner, who went to work for the Cuomo administration, and Lauren Passalacqua, who joined lame-duck Mayor Bloomberg’s press shop.
In addition, Blake Zeff, a former Hillary Clinton aide, quietly left recently to write about the presidential race, and several lawyers have also departed or are in the process of doing so, insiders said. Several sources cited low morale in the office stemming from Schneiderman’s hard-charging chief of staff Neal Kwatra as at least a factor in some departures. But others said most who left went on to better or higher-paying jobs.
Cuomo has quietly transferred his appointments unit — long seen as the patronage arm of governors — from his second-floor Capitol office suite to the 19th floor of a nearby building that houses the Office of General Services.
Some sources say by offloading the 10 employees to OGS, Cuomo wants to make it appear like he’s reducing his own executive office budget by hundreds of thousands of dollars when asking other agencies to absorb budget freezes again this coming year.
But Secretary to the Governor Larry Schwartz insists Cuomo is seeking to end the days when the appointments office was a “political patronage dispensing machine” turning it into a “professional recruitment and executive search firm operation for state government.”
Appointments Secretary Judge Leslie Leach quietly left in August for a gig at City University. As part of the restructuring, “top professional recruiting staff” will be hired, Schwartz said.