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STATE FURLOUGHS MAKE SENSE, (AND GIMMICKY PLOY DOESN'T) FUROR SUGGESTS POWER OF UNION CAMPAIGN GIFTS

T HE LINK between campaign financing and government decision-making seems never more apparent than in the State Legislature's silence over a reasonable proposal to have state workers take five days off without pay to help Albany balance its books.

The lawmakers -- fresh from elections in which two major employee unions contributed nearly $700,000 to legislative candidates and committees -- have left Gov. Cuomo alone on the limb while they distance themselves from the fray over his alternative to more layoffs.

Instead of backing him on that gut-check issue, they seem more interested in an idea that would make a mockery of a promise the state cannot afford to renege on: namely, that the budget will not be balanced through fiscal gimmickry.

Union outcries over the furlough plan have Albany now talking about a scheme to have workers defer one or more weeks pay from this year into some future year -- or possibly recouping it at retirement.

The problem with this proposal is that the money will have to be paid some day. It is the type of gimmick Albany has relied on too often in the past.

The furlough plan, as one Standard & Poor's director noted, is the type of "bite the bullet" approach that is needed. The deferral simply places the gun at Albany's head later instead of now.

But forcing workers to take off five days throughout the year is the type of painful solution a squeamish Legislature finds hard to stomach. Thus, lawmakers pretend not to hear as Cuomo calls on them to pass legislation to put the plan into effect.

If they were not so dependent on organi
zations like the Civil Service Employees Association and the Public Employees Federation for campaign funding, they might find it easier to step up to their responsibility.

But the unions also should see the wisdom of the proposal and drop any threats of a lawsuit over the furloughs, which they claim would amount to a "lockout."

Assuming the deferral plan is quickly dropped -- as it should be in the wake of reminders that Wall Street is watching -- the only alternative to the furloughs is more layoffs.

Already, the state is looking at 2,000 layoffs over the remainder of this fiscal year to close a $1 billion budget gap, as well as another 8,000 layoffs to help balance the 1991-92 budget.

Rejection of the furlough plan would simply mean more state workers will hit the streets in an effort to make up the $135 million that could be saved through the furloughs. Why the unions consider that preferable is a secret they have yet to share.

Furloughs spread out over the work year would have far less disruptive impact on state operations. They also would keep more names on the tax rolls and off the unemployment rolls.

The unions should drop their threats and go along with this equitable way of spreading the required pain. If they don't, the Legislature should stop pretending it has no role in this controversy and pass the legislation requested by Cuomo to put the furloughs into effect.

Then, as soon as the budget battles subside, they should reconsider campaign reforms -- such as public funding -- so that they won't have to be so concerned about trying to please two masters.

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