The state's public-sector unions and state legislators are talking about a retirement-incentive measure aimed at trimming the workforce without layoffs.
The discussions are taking place as the state and its localities grapple with an unprecedented drop-off in revenues as a consequence of the COVID-19-related economic shutdown.
Past early-retirement incentives targeted workers who were 55 or older and close to qualifying for full pensions.
Feds Not Rushing In
The cash crunch, which is also being felt by local school districts, comes as the fate of Federal support through another stimulus program aimed at states and localities remains on hold.
In April, according to State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, state tax revenue plunged 68.4 percent, mostly due to delay of the tax-filing deadline until July 15.
Legislators and union leaders hope they can fashion a program that will reduce the need for layoffs by encouraging the most-senior and higher-paid employees to retirement early.
"As New York State and City approaches this unprecedented fiscal crisis, it's important to look towards early-retirement incentives to avoid layoffs and realize some savings to plug our budget gap," State Sen. Andrew Gounardes, chair of the Civil Service Committee, said in a statement.
Gearing Up for Tsunami
"We suffered a health earthquake from COVID—and there will be an inevitable financial tsunami that follows," said Assembly Member Thomas J. Abinanti during a June 17 phone interview. "Local governments and school districts in particular are not equipped to deal with that avalanche of financial problems."
He has introduced two early retirement bills, one for Teachers and the second for all other public employees. They are modeled on bills enacted a decade ago when the state had to manage the fallout from the stock-market meltdown that precipitated the Great Recession.
"These bills will need to be re-fashioned for our current circumstances, and we can't do that until we have a conversation with all the stake holders-the local governments and the employee representatives," he said.
The Westchester Assemblyman said that while the fiscal crisis was daunting, it would offer governments at every level an opportunity to foster "a post-COVID economy that would be greener and high tech.This is an opportunity for governments to modernize and re-fashion the way they do things and work with other governments nearby and for larger governments, like counties, to provide services to local governments."
Mr. Abinanti said, "I spoke with one of my Superintendents of Schools who was concerned there were some senior Teachers who are older who were not as up on the technology as you would hope in order to do the at-home learning, and at the same time were reluctant to go back into a classroom where COVID-19 was still a problem," he said.
UFT Waiting on Details
"We are supportive of the idea," said a United Federation of Teachers spokesperson. "If it were to happen, there would be many details that would have to be nailed down."
On May 28, the Municipal Labor Committee wrote Mayor de Blasio to urge that he consider offering early retirement incentives instead of layoffs to reduce the city's headcount and close a $9-billion budget gap.
Across the country, local, county and state governments laid off 1.5 million public workers in April and May.
At a June 16 appearance before the House Financial Services Committee, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell testified that state and local government layoffs would "hold back the economic recovery."
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