A New York Legislature that now cannot balance a budget to save its life is astoundingly considering a ream of bills that would make it that much harder to balance state budgets in the future.
If it passes any of them, it will be up to Gov. David A. Paterson to show a little more of the good sense he often has demonstrated and veto them one by one. Otherwise, it will only add to the number of times that future legislators -- and taxpayers -- will shake their heads and ask of their forebears, "What were they thinking?"
Known in Albany as "benefit sweeteners," the 24 different proposals now before members of the Assembly and the Senate would increase the health and pension benefits offered to various strata of state and local government employees.
Individually, the bills would do such things as offer new state-paid pension benefits to employees who do not now have them, allow employees to collect full pensions with fewer years of service, boost the size of death benefits paid to the survivors of state employees and presume that all kinds of ailments, from heart disease to staph infections, were job-related disabilities.
Collectively, they betray a giant lack of understanding on the part of their sponsors that, however much state employees might deserve to be well compensated for their service, the taxpayers simply cannot bear any greater burden in this area.
Not all of the bills have a price tag attached. Of those that do, first-year costs associated with paying out the additional benefits are estimated to run between $1 million and more than $5 million. And those are costs that will only grow over time.
The cost of state employees, current and retired, is a major share of the state's out-of-balance budget. To try to get a handle on those costs, Paterson and the Legislature have taken such steps as instituting new tiers of benefits, meaning that employees hired in the future will not earn as much, or pay in as little, in the form of employee and retiree benefits.
That should be a way to help ease the state's structural debt without breaking any promises to current and past employees. But by floating so many different ideas to undermine that philosophy, lawmakers who support the sweeteners are doing nothing so much as improving the chances that more employees will be laid off, and more retirees will see their benefits curtailed, as the state's deteriorating fiscal condition leaves officials with no other choice.
Sucking up to the powerful state employee and other unions in a way that only sabotages union members' long-term security -- and increases the burden on taxpayers of all walks of life -- is no way to run a state. If the Legislature won't drop these ideas, the governor must be ready to block them.