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Gov calls for furloughs of 100K state workers

ALBANY — About 100,000 unionized state workers will start getting a day of unpaid furlough each week under a plan announced Tuesday by Gov. David Paterson.

“I think the collective sacrifice is preferable to individual layoffs at this time,” the Democratic governor said of the proposal, unprecedented for New York.

Paterson had asked the Legislature to approve the furloughs in a separate bill last week that never made it to the floor of the Senate or Assembly. Now Paterson plans to include furloughs in his weekly emergency spending bill, which the Legislature must accept or reject in its entirety.

Rejecting the bill would shut down state government, something lawmakers said they won’t do.

This and all of Paterson’s previous attempts to help address a $9.2 billion deficit by extracting $250 million in savings from the public employee unions have been opposed by lawmakers. The 2010-11 budget is now a month late.

Public worker unions are among the most powerful special interests in Albany, spending $7.1 million last year in lobbying, the most recent year available, and millions more in campaign contributions leading up to this year’s elections.

“I don’t think furloughs are legal,” said Assemblyman Alan Maisel, a Brooklyn Democrat who had just left a union rally in Albany.

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who writes the state’s paychecks, acknowledges there is may be a dispute over the legality of furloughs.

“But if we’re directed by the Legislature, then that’s what we’ll do,” the Democrat said.

Under Paterson’s plan, each state commissioner under control of the executive branch — rather than under the Legislature or courts — would furlough each worker for one day every time a one-week emergency spending bill keeps the state operating. He would direct spreading out the furloughs to limit disruption of services.

Paterson said management workers probably won’t be included. He suspended raises for them for two years and cut his own pay. Paterson has said it’s now time for the public sector, which has collected raises of 4 percent or more in each of the last two years, to “sacrifice” with other New Yorkers.

Although other states have had to resort to furloughs, the governor’s office said they apparently were never enacted in New York.