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Buffalo News


Drop Triborough Amendment to Control Expenses

January 15, 2012

By Russell Sykes

In tough economic times, New York State’s counties, municipalities and school districts face intense pressure to control their budgets. To bring spending into line with tightly constrained revenues, local governments need more than ever to control rising employee salary and benefit costs.

But efforts to restructure costly public- sector labor deals often run into a statutory brick wall known as the Triborough Amendment. The 1982 amendment mandates that all provisions of a public employee contract — including those providing automatic annual pay increases—must remain in effect even after the contract expires.

This law makes it easier for unions to resist negotiating structural changes to their contracts, since the status quo will be preserved even if no contract agreement is reached.

“Step” raises negotiated into existing contracts and guaranteed by the Triborough Amendment cost state government no less than $140 million a year. They add nearly $300 million annually to school budgets statewide.

County executives, mayors, school administrators and school board members throughout New York State have cited the Triborough Amendment as an obstacle to providing better, more efficient, less costly public services. Locally —where employee salaries and benefits typically comprise 50 percent to 70 percent of operating expenditures by municipalities and school districts — preserving automatic pay increases when a contract ends and the union is intractable results either in layoffs or deep reductions in other important services.

Moreover, the Triborough Amendment makes it harder for school districts and local governments to live within the confines of the newly enacted property tax cap. To avoid disrupting public services, they need greater flexibility.

The costs tell only part of the story. Since the Triborough Amendment makes it easier for unions to resist proposals for more significant and lasting changes to work rules, staffing requirements and fringe benefit cost-sharing arrangements, the full cost impact of the provision on state and local government is incalculable. In these austere fiscal times, the Triborough Amendment must be repealed.

Contrary to union claims, repeal of the Triborough Amendment would not expose union members to the unilateral cancellation of health insurance or other important benefits. Rather, according to a new report by the Empire Center, basic terms and conditions of employment would be protected by the underlying “Triborough Doctrine,” based on a state Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) ruling in 1972.

In 1982, Gov. Hugh Carey should have listened to his senior budget staff when they urged him not to sign the Triborough Amendment. In 2012, it is time for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to rid public employers of this costly albatross of a mandate, which raises the desires of the few above the needs of the many.

Original Source:



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