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Change the laws Brown should work with governor, control board to level the field

Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown, New York Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer and the Buffalo fiscal control board all have the same goal: A financially solvent city government that can stand on its own feet and not require the oversight now provided by the state-created control board. The way for that to happen is for the three of them to work together, not fighting over details or who gets the credit, not only to achieve that goal but also to agree on what it will look like.

Spitzer's own definition of what is necessary to build an era of fiscal stability -- long-term union contracts that deal fairly with the city's and school district's employees while cutting the overall cost to the taxpayers -- is the benchmark all should work from. That's because Spitzer is 1) correct and 2) governor. Only when he is satisfied that the single most important plank in the platform is firmly in place will he -- or should he -- allow the control board to slip into inactive status before it finally fades away altogether.

Mention the control board and the whole Brown administration goes into its well-rehearsed complaining about how that board is a giant pain in the neck, preventing the duly elected mayor from doing his job. But, in fact, the mayor would be well served to make common cause with the control board and the governor and, among the three of them, convince the New York Legislature that there need to be some changes in the ground rules.

There are stubborn portions of state statute that needlessly inflate the cost of doing municipal business in New York. They include the infamous Wicks Law, which requires multiple contractors on public projects in a way that pushes up the cost, as well as the Taylor Law and Triborough Amendment, statutes that freeze overly generous union benefits and rules in place even when contracts expire and sap those unions of any incentive to negotiate away generous perks in return for long-overdue raises in their basic salaries.

Changing those laws could give Brown, and his successors, an even chance to negotiate the kinds of union deals that will allow the mayor to fulfill his promise of lifting the control board-imposed wage freeze once and for all. And it could give the union leaders -- whose honorable job it is to get all they can for their members -- the incentive to get creative in their negotiating and stop running to court whenever they don't get their way.

City workers deserve respect, and contracts must not be capriciously abrogated. But the status quo is not good for anyone, and a city/control board alliance could persuade Albany to give this and future mayors a more level negotiating table when dealing with public sector unions.

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