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Letter to Governor Pataki on proposed changes to the Taylor Law

July 18, 2006


Honorable George E. Pataki
Governor
State of New York
The Capitol
Albany, New York 12224

Dear Governor Pataki:

RE: This year’s flood of anti-taxpayer legislation

As you have said consistently, high taxes hurt New York. They drive jobs away – a key reason our job growth continues to lag the nation’s. And high taxes make it harder for working families and individuals to pay the bills or save for the future.

Unfortunately, the Legislature voted this year to enact a number of bills that would drive our taxes still higher, by giving public-employee unions enormous new powers to demand and win preferential treatment. By one published estimate, the total cost of this year’s union-sponsored bills approved by both the Senate and Assembly is well over $1 billion.

Something is wrong when the Legislature’s responsibility to balance the concerns of taxpayers and public employees skews overwhelmingly in the direction of giving unions more, and charging taxpayers more.

The legislation that the public-sector unions demanded would provide higher paychecks, richer pensions and better health benefits to public employees, while making it easier for the unions to sign up new members. Some such bills pass the Legislature every year; typically, governors veto some and allow some to become law. This year, the normal flow of union-sponsored bills became a flood.

Among the most objectionable are two bills that would reward public-sector unions for refusal to agree to new contracts with the state, local school districts and other public employers. Both S.3177 and S.3178 are sponsored by Senator Robach and Assemblyman Abbate.

S.3178 creates the right for public employees to receive pay raises up to 2.5 percent a year, on top of negotiated increases, if their union does not reach agreement with the state, school district or other public employer. It punishes public employers – that is, taxpayers – for “improper” labor practices, while creating no liability for such practices by unions.

S.3177 may be even worse for taxpayers. It creates a process for a union’s last contract offer to be imposed by fiat – no matter how unreasonable the demands may be – if employees do not come to terms with a public employer.

We urge you to veto both S.3177 and S.3178.

We applaud your previous vetoes of two union-sponsored bills that would drive up taxpayer costs dramatically – S.6397, making it difficult for municipalities to control retiree health costs; and S.6758, adding 52,000 home-based day-care providers to the state payroll.

The New York State School Boards Association, New York State Association of Counties, New York State Conference of Mayors and other associations of local-government employers have identified other bills that would harm local elected officials’ ability to control costs and manage vital services. A few examples:

• A.5397 (Senator Robach/Assemblyman Abbate), which would reduce the standard of proof that a union must demonstrate when charging a public employer with an improper labor practice.
• S.7842 (Senator Robach/Assemblyman Abbate), which would have similar effects.
• S.7387 (Senator Robach/Assemblyman Abbate), which would override local governments’ collective-bargaining agreements with employee unions to impose various mandates related to reductions in staffing.
• S.7503 (Senator Golden/Assemblyman Abbate), which includes disciplinary actions within the Civil Service Law’s list of “terms and conditions of employment” that are subject to collective bargaining.
• S.7903 (Senator Spano/Assemblyman Lentol), requiring the hiring of an independent hearing officer for disciplinary proceedings against any employee.
• S.8244 (Senator Trunzo/Assemblyman Abbate), which expands binding arbitration to all deputy sheriffs.

Some of these bills would impose new costs directly. Others would shift the balance of negotiating power in collective bargaining further away from public employers, and thus lead to higher taxpayer costs in new employee contracts.

All of these bills could be considered more appropriately in the context of a broad review of the state’s laws governing public-employee relations. The Taylor Law is nearly 40 years old. School boards and other public employers make a compelling case that elements of the law, such as the Triborough Amendment, should be amended or repealed as part of New York State’s ongoing efforts to reduce the tax burden. Enacting such bills piecemeal would make it all the more difficult to achieve real Taylor Law reform that considers the needs of both taxpayers and public employees. We urge you to veto these bills, as well.

Sincerely,

Daniel B. Walsh