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State budget battle Public may have to help Cuomo take on unions, shrink work force

The issue of reducing state labor costs is hardly new. It has been on Albany's docket for years and was on the campaign agenda of both candidates for governor.

Carl P. Paladino secured the Republican nomination by tapping into the public's disgust with Albany and the state's massive deficit. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo criticized equally, but also published seven books detailing what he would do.

Part of the reason Paladino lost so badly, when Republicans were winning all over the country, was not only that he tripped with repeated goofs and gaffes that alienated the electorate. It was also that people labeled him unfit for office, understanding that his obsessive bullying style would fail in dealing with the Legislature and the myriad bodies influencing state government.

Cuomo, on the other hand, has been quietly strong in repeating what he said he would do if elected. We now will see how he navigates the crosscurrents his agenda will encounter, especially from the direction of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

Now, there's a new wrinkle in the fight. In the past, state unions not only had Silver on their side, but they also had their own deep pockets, spending millions fighting proposals for cutting costs. Cuomo, recognizing that he may not be successful with Silver, has gone right to the public, with speeches in Jamestown, Watertown and other locations.

Furthermore, he has encouraged a new group, the Committee to Save New York, to anticipate labor's promotional barrage against reducing costs, and make the case for focusing on the state's fiscal health and its biggest cost in reducing its $10 billion deficit.

One thing you can say about Cuomo's announcement of layoffs last week is that it should have been a surprise to no one, particularly the state unions. Cuomo has written about it, talked about it and was elected on the basis of it.

With 236,447 employees, the 10,000 Cuomo wants to cut will not make the impact that is necessary to tackle the $10 billion state deficit. And it does not include the tens of thousands of employees who work for various authorities.

The cost of employees is a huge part of the budget, and it is growing rapidly. Add labor's rich retirement and health care costs, and you are looking at one of the main reason for the deficit and the area that needs the greatest reductions.

There is another area of concern. While the deficit is what everyone is focused upon, the state's outstanding debt is more than$56 billion. And the budget starts each year with $2 billion of interest on long-term debt. The state cannot do more borrowing.

The governor received a warm reception on his proposed job cuts from the Republican Senate, while his own party remains silent. Again, the big question is what will Silver do? He's totally in the hands of the unions that see to his re-election and fund Democratic races.

He has indicated a little openness, but the moment of truth is yet to come. Most taxpayers would like to see the Assembly, under Silver's leadership, not only recognize the problem, but do something about it. If he doesn't, the burden will be on New Yorkers to make their voices heard.

Get ready to shout.

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