ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York's legislative leaders said Thursday they won't try to block Gov. David Paterson's plan for furloughs of unionized workers to keep the state solvent, but gave some support to public worker unions considering a lawsuit.
The leaders also didn't heed Paterson's request to keep their members in Albany on Thursday and Friday to focus on the state budget, now more than a month late.
Furloughs for 100,000 state workers would begin the week of May 17. Workers will have to take a day of unpaid leave each week that the state operates on an emergency spending plan, as it has since the budget lapsed March 31. The only exceptions are to be those in public safety and health care.
Senate Conference Leader John Sampson and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, both lawyers, said they doubt Paterson can legally enact the furloughs.
Paterson said he will put furloughs into the emergency spending bill he will submit to the Legislature on Friday, for passage on Monday. Under law, the Legislature can only accept or reject the bill, not amend it. Rejecting the appropriation bill would shut down government.
"I think the unions have an excellent position if they intend to sue, but I do not intend to shut down government," said Sampson, a Brooklyn Democrat. He said a shutdown would be worse than furloughs.
The Civil Service Employees Association has already said it is preparing to defend its position that furloughs are illegal.
"I'm not prepared to close government," Silver said. "If it's legal, he can do it."
Silver said he realizes furloughs could cost New York more cash in fighting unions' lawsuits and, potentially, returning the denied pay if the state loses.
"I personally believe the government can't interfere with existing contracts," Silver said. "My analysis is that it will be overturned by the court."
Public employee unions representing hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers are among the most powerful lobbyists and campaign contributors in Albany.
"The state is going to run out of money in May," Paterson said. He has previously asked the public employee unions to voluntarily delay their 4-percent raises, accept several days of "lag pay" that would be paid out at retirement, and other measures to avoid layoffs.
"They haven't done it, so we are taking an extreme effort now," Paterson said. "They are basically saying to us they shouldn't take a cut at all."
As for lawmakers going home Wednesday afternoon as planned, rather than work five days a week in Albany as he requested, Paterson said he may yet compel them to Albany by declaring special sessions.
"I'm waiting to see if the Legislature will partner with me and come to their own conclusions that the people of the state of New York, with a one month late budget, deserve to have their elected state legislators stay through the week."