Government workers in New York fall to earth

Last month, governments across the US shed another 14,000 jobs.  That continues a downsizing trend that’s been underway for a long time, accelerating during the Great Recession.

Local, state and Federal agencies have laid off hundreds of thousands of teachers, cops, firemen, counselors, prison guards. Here in New York state, the impact has been profound.  This from the Ithaca Journal.

Government jobs have long been a stable and secure career for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers.

But between December 2009 and December 2010, the federal, state and local governments shed 34,700 jobs — more than any other sector in New York.

That’s in one year.  And my guess is that we’re just warming up, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo threatening as many as 10,000 state-level lay-offs next year.

Combine that with the teacher and local government lay-offs that will be triggered by his austerity budget — which cuts pass-through grants sharply — we could easily see another 30,000-40,000 public sector workers go.

If Albany approves a property tax cap, that will curtail funding for schools and local governments even further, almost certainly triggering even deeper reductions.

A generation ago, the impact of this transformation wouldn’t have been so profound.  We had a broad-based middle class in America, with relatively small gaps between the haves and have-nots.

But these days, public-sector jobs are one of the last bastions of economic security, especially for minorities, for people in rural areas like the North Country, and people with lower levels of education.

When you factor in the economic vitality sparked by those jobs, the impact is profound.

Obviously, the best case scenario is that we transition in an orderly way from taxpayer-dependent jobs in the public sector to tax-revenue generating jobs in the private sector.

But the reality of America’s modern economy is that many of these government workers will be entering a brutal job market.

Even if they find work, the jobs are likely to be more demanding, with longer hours, lower pay, and fewer benefits, than the world they left behind.

I’m also guessing that we’ve seen the end of the era when government jobs are compensated so generously.  State workers in the North Country earn, on average, $20,000 a year more than workers in the private sector.

I don’t know anyone who thinks that is fair, or sustainable.

But in many ways, this change in New York’s economy is every bit as challenging as the collapse of Michigan’s automobile industry, or the decline of manufacturing in Ohio.

All those government jobs created the illusion of solid, stable prosperity.  Now, somehow, we have to struggle toward the real thing.

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63 Comments on “Government workers in New York fall to earth”

  1. “State workers in the North Country earn, on average, $20,000 a year more than workers in the private sector.”

    You are comparing apples and oranges with flat statements like the above Brian. Comparing state workers as a whole in the North Country to private sector employees as a whole ignores the fact that the majority of state jobs in the North Country are professional and require a college degree, many even an advanced degree. Many private sector jobs on the other hand require only a HS diploma if that. to be fair you need to compare jobs based on the education they require and the responsibilities of the job. I know that when I supervised DOL in St. Lawrence county I was paid less than the managers of some local fast food restaurants and the difference was over $10K.

    One of the reasons our children are leaving the North Country is that we encourage them to go to college to better themselves and then they find that there is a dearth of jobs for their new skills and education so they go elsewhere. I know that both my children had to leave to get decent jobs. You may think that transitioning to fewer public sector jobs in favor of private sector jobs is a good thing but I see it further draining the North Country of those who go to college.

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  2. Brian Mann says:

    James –

    What you’re saying is only partly true.

    Firstly, even if one accepts your premise, you face an inevitable social rupture when government workers as a class are the elites of a region.

    Secondly, there are literally thousands of North Country state (and local) government workers who don’t have higher levels of education attainment than their private sector neighbors.

    Prison guards, snowplow drivers, clerical and maintenance staff for DOT, DEC, and other agencies…these individuals experience prosperity that comparable workers in the private sector can only dream of.

    –Brian, NCPR

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  3. John Warren says:

    “I don’t know anyone who thinks that is fair, or sustainable.” Well Brian, now you do. I see it as neither unsustainable or unfair.

    What IS unsustainable and unfair is the corporate handouts and 30 years of stagnant wages, loss of pensions, and lack of health-care while our leaders secure for themselves and their friends economic prosperity. You seem to be content, nay, you see it as a requirement, that we all race to the bottom of the wage scale and abandon what few benefits are left in favor of some fantasy private sector Disney Land – that is the same failed thinking that got us here to begin with.

    As anyone working in the public sector can tell you, those jobs are what keeps our roads and bridges safe, our children educated, our old and infirm cared for, and consumers protected from even worse depredations by the corporate elite. Those jobs are what keep small businesses in business. Those jobs are filled by our friends, neighbors, and family members – it’s no surprise that they are among the best jobs we have left.

    Those who really care about the continued loss of jobs should demand an appropriate taxing structure, livable wages, health-care and an immediate end to military-industrial handouts like foreign aid to dictators, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and the drug war ($50 million dollars seized in Northern New York last year alone).

    Not only would that save jobs, it would put money into the hands of people who will immediately spend in locally.

    You keep calling for what is essentially a continued shift away from jobs that pay wages that can boost our economy, but what is your alternative?

    Tell us what “tax-revenue generating jobs in the private sector” that pay a livable wage for a family that you see in our future?

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  4. Pete Klein says:

    I really don’t know what to say here except to say the days of demanding anything from government are over. Same goes for the private sector.
    Two facts need to be faced.
    One, automation and computerization work together to boost productivity without the need to hire more people to do it.
    Two, combine the above with a growing population and the result is surplus people looking for fewer needed jobs.
    The Great Recession has taught business the first lesson. Now government is looking to do the same.
    Want to keep your job? Work harder. Do more. Multi-task.
    May I be crude and say the average American hates people on welfare. This attitude is so ingrained that even people on unemployment or receiving Social Security are seen as being on a form of welfare. And yet, we expect/demand government and the private sector to create jobs even if there is no need and even if there is no money to pay anyone to do the jobs we demand to be created.
    I’m sorry but jobs are only created when someone needs someone to do a job. They are not created simply because someone wants or needs a job. Even if someone needs someone to do a job but they don’t have the money to pay them, they aren’t going to hire someone.
    This is the situation we now find ourselves in.
    You have a solution? I don’t.

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  5. phahn50 says:

    Brian you are making a poorly thought out argument (without any real facts “government jobs are compensated so generously”). It is probably true that blue-collar type workers working for the state are paid more than their private sector equivalents, but that is mostly because they are unionized and the private sector workers are not. It is well known that unionized workers are paid more than non-union ones. Confounding union wages with public sector wages is a common error. I suppose it is fair to say that state workers have an easier time forming and keeping unions than private sector employees. If the private sector workers organized a union, they would be paid as much if not more than the state workers.

    But the “white collar” state employees are still paid less than equivalent white collar private sector employees, but perhaps with more job security. For example, doctors working at state university hospitals are paid less than private sector doctors (with less training) but work longer hours. I dont know the salaries of HR directors at state agencies compared to private sector ones, but I bet the state ones are paid less, on average, than their private sector equivalents. You – Brian – as a journalist, might check these things out first before making unsubstantiated claims. Who knows – maybe, on average, a state middle manager is paid 20K more than a private sector one with the same level of responsibility. You could find that out.

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  6. Mervel says:

    There is NO corporate elite in the North Country. So Brian makes a very good point; it is not a good situation when government employees are the elites of a society. We see what a system looks like that is government powered here in the North Country, its not pretty nor healthy. For those that despise corporate elites I would ask how things go without corporations like the situation we have up here?

    The fact is in the North Country clerical workers at DSS make more than clerical workers in other lines of work. Janitors for the county or school systems make more, substantially than janitors in almost all other industries. Elementary school teachers have better benefits than P.hd professors at our private colleges.

    Government alone has the power to take things, it alone can throw you in jail if you refuse to pay for its services so indeed when you have places like the North Country where these same government elites sit above most others in income and benefits then additionally take taxes from these lower paid people, it creates a social disparity that is unhealthy.

    I don’t begrudge individual government workers at ALL for making these salaries which are not crazy; they are just too much for what we can afford. Its time for a re-alignment.

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  7. “…you face an inevitable social rupture when government workers as a class are the elites of a region.”

    “Elites”? Since when are public employees an elite? Even in good times they are considered leaches by the conservatives and every time there is a recession they are the first group everyone attacks. And what “inevitable social rupture” are you referring to? Why is the loss of state paychecks a good thing but loss of ALCOA or GM paychecks bad? Both support the local economy. From where do you propose that money will flow into the local businesses if state workers are laid off?

    You are also off base suggesting that public workers have job stability that private employees don’t. Many of the long time state workers I knew had been laid off at some point, had to bump someone else, bump to a lower position or another location in order to keep their job. One manager I knew got bumped and had to go to the Finger Lakes region and it took several years and transfers to get back home. Layoffs hit those folks just like any other worker and you are kidding yourself if you think they don’t. I once had to bump another supervisor to keep working.

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  8. phahn50 says:

    It is true that the state has placed many high-paying jobs in the park (and north country in general. the north country will be worse off without them. The potential “shadenfreude” experienced by people who are currently in low-wage jobs with poor or no benefits will not justify the economic pain the region will suffer losing highly paid state jobs.

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  9. anon says:

    IfBrian, state workers already have their feet firmly planted on the ground. Our governor has apparently just discovered putting people first, while many state workers are already doing that whether they serve the poor, students, the sick or mentally ill. State government workers have seen budget cut after budget cut that leaves them with out necessary equipment that would increase their productivity and college labs without adequate supplies to teach the curriculum. Many state workers are left to wonder if what they are doing is credible, despite their best efforts. Many workers feel they are the real advocates for the populations they serve. The average taxpayer does not realize that many agencies have been hollowed out and gutted for years. That’s the sham that continues. State workers are caught in a nether world where politicians will neither shut things down or adequately fund agencies. If we have truly reached a time where we can no longer afford much of state government, so be it, but let’s not point the finger at state workers.

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  10. And BTW I had friends & relatives who worked in the aluminum plants, GM, the phone company, NiMo, etc. and they all made more than I did on high school diplomas or a trade school certificate while I needed a bachelor degree to qualify to even take the exam for my job.

    Sorry for the rant Brian but I get riled when you keep dragging out this “state workers are overpaid” song of yours. That was not my experience at all and I get really tired of hearing the North Country’s problems blamed on people who are just trying to make a living and the job they got happened to be for the government instead of a private company.

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  11. scratchy says:

    Instead of laying off workers local school districts should align their health benefits more closely with the federal governments’ benefits.

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  12. john says:

    I think it is important to remember that New York State lost nearly 30% of it’s total income in the crash of Wall St. in 2008. The incomes are back in full on Wall St., but somehow, the revenue stream that those incomes used to fund have not been restored.
    Since 1977, an additional 17% of our nation’s total wealth has been concentrated into the top 2% of the population to a total of 24%. These same folks just got a 2 year continuation of a gigantic tax cut.
    I can’t help but think that the pile of scraps that the other 98% of us are squabbling over is getting ever smaller. I agree with the statement above about the race to the bottom in terms of wages and benefits for the middle class, especially in the private sector. I don’t think that the answer is to finish the job by grinding the public sector into the dirt in similar fashion. I think the real question is, how are we going to restore the integrity of wages and benefits to the private sector. People make it sound scandalous that public employees are comfortable. I think it’s scandalous that private sector workers are not, especially when I think about the fact that the private sector has been sitting on 2 trillion dollars of liquidity for a couple of years now. Spare me the trickle-down economic theory!

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  13. Brian Mann says:

    My argument here isn’t that government workers are overpaid.

    My argument is that their payment is out of sync with the broader North Country economy. And that it is, at present, unsustainable.

    It’s not a value judgment; it’s not ideology; it’s not envy. It’s just math.

    12% of the North Country’s take-home pay comes from state payroll. That doesn’t factor in local, Federal, grant-driven jobs, etc. — which boost the total over 50%.

    So come on. Really. It’s not like I’m calling government workers names or disrespecting their service. I’m just pointing out an obvious imbalance.

    I actually think it’s very important and long overdue that we attempt what John Warren suggests, working toward an economy (through better trade deals, tax policies, etc.) where all workers are compensated better.

    That includes government workers.

    But in the meantime, given that government workers are paid by taxing the broader economy, it only seems reasonable that their wages, benefits, and working conditions should roughly mirror that economy.

    –Brian, NCPR

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  14. Mervel says:

    There are over 8600 state of NY employees who make over 100,000 per year from what I can tell from SeeThrough NY. This is a great website I encourage people to take a look at what people are actually making so we don’t have to speculate. It is our money.

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  15. Pete thinks that we don’t need all those public jobs, that they are there as ‘make work’ jobs, but we need people to keep our roads open, people to educate our children, police to keep order, the list goes on and on. The problem is that we have come to define legitimate jobs as those that generate a profit for private individuals who own businesses. No profit to be made… it doesn’t really need doing and anything that can be potentially profitable we try to make into a private enterprise be it health care or prisons, you name it. The results have usually been bad. Some things are for a social good with no monetary profit to be had.

    We need to rethink the economy. It should be a system of distributing goods and services equitably for the general welfare but it has turned into a system for funneling maximum profits to the richest people in the country. There are lots of things that need doing but there is little or no profit to be made from them.

    Mervil observes that PhDs in private colleges make less than elementary teachers. I’m not sure that is true. I could easily name several PhDs with 6 figure incomes although I know others that don’t make a lot given their level of education. Colleges often use adjunct professors and that pays poorly. PhDs have long been underpaid relative to their education but I don’t see that as reason to bring down everyone else’s pay.

    Basically this is a case of blaming people who had nothing to do with creating the fiscal mess we are in. Back in Old Testament days there was a ritual in which the people of a community would chose a goat from their herd which they then cursed and spat on as the symbol of all their sins and transgressions against God. The goat was then beaten and driven out into the desert to die, a scapegoat. This was believed to appease God’s anger. Who or what are we appeasing by making scapegoats of public workers?

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  16. scratchy says:

    James Bullard,

    “Basically this is a case of blaming people who had nothing to do with creating the fiscal mess we are in.”

    Interesting statement. NY has the highest tax burden and highest level of per person expenditure for education and health care. Public pensions are among the most generous anywhere and many local governments and school offer very generous health plans. We have no alternative but to “cut” spending because the status quo is simply unaffordable and we are driving businesses out of the state with high taxes. State spending was increasing at an unaffordable pace even before the recession. I read where state spending has increased over 70% the last 10 years but inflation was less than 30% and population growth just over 2% during that same time period. How is that affordable?

    With regard to college professors and public school teachers. College professors are a year round job, given they do research when classes are not in session. Take a look at seethroughny, and you’ll find there are several public school teachers who make 6 figures.

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  17. Pete Klein says:

    I never said, as Bullard says I said, that we don’t need all those public jobs.
    What I did say is that both the government and private sector are finding ways to do more with fewer employees.
    I don’t think it serves any constructive purpose to argue over who pays more or who pays less.
    Given the opportunity, both business and government will pay as little as possible.
    Saying we need more jobs is an obvious truth when you see how many people are unemployed or underemployed but that doesn’t change the fact that both business and government only employee people when they need and can afford them.
    Just remember: In God we trust. All other pay cash.

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  18. Bill G says:

    Not that Brian Mann needs me to validate his position, but it’s pretty obvious that he is talking about math, not ideology or politics. NY is a highly taxed state and is at (probably past) the point of diminishing returns relative to tax rates. Because of a major recession, public policy decisions made over an extended period, and a state political system that is largely dysfunctional we are now at a juncture that requires the dramatic reduction in state services and the associated jobs. Those are the facts. Whether those with government jobs sit at the top of the food chain in the North Country is largely irrelevant. The painful truth is that the region is disproportionately dependent on these jobs and many of them will be disappearing.

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  19. Mervel says:

    I don’t think people are blaming government employees for this fiscal situation, I know I am not.

    It is too bad for example that instead of layoffs they could not take minor pay reductions, minor benefit compensation reductions, as many hundreds of thousands of state employees that exist in the state even minor reductions would make a huge difference. But I don’t think that is how things work in our state, the lack of flexibility in these kinds of decisions due to generations of bad decisions and corruption and yes unions are to blame, not individual state employees.

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  20. phahn50 says:

    Brian – With all due respect, I think you are flat out wrong on this one. In every sense. For another example close to home – are the junior faculty at SUNY Potsdam (state workers) paid more than junior faculty at Clarkson or St Lawwrence (private sector). at any level? Are the administrative assistants paid more? the maintenance guys might be. Is there any sense that the SUNY system is unsustainable?

    are you suggesting that since there are lots of poor people living in the North country that the state should only locate state facilities that use low wage workers so that they fit in better? That would just make everyone poorer.

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  21. JDM says:

    There will come a time when public-sector employees are home collecting 75% retirement at age 60 while private-sector workers are having to work well into retirement to make ends meet are going to be hearing from their private-sector neighbors that enough is enough.

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  22. phahn50 says:

    JDM – which public sector employees get 75% retirement at age 60? You can put the same maximum in your 401k that we public employees can put in the equivalent 403b. If you dont save enough for your retirement dont blame public employees.

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  23. dbw says:

    “All those government jobs created the illusion of solid, stable prosperity. Now, somehow, we have to struggle toward the real thing.”

    This makes it sounds like things will return to business as usual in the future, that society as a whole will have prosperity again relatively soon. . Our North Country economy and the national economy have been degrading for many years. Here in the region our dairy industry shrinks every year. Manufacturing jobs in St.Lawrence County have declined by 4000 since 1990, and we are poised to lose an unknown number of government jobs. Unemployment and rumblings that the social contract is in the process of being torn up are making people less likely to spend–even those who are still have jobs. And after all, consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of our economy. Eventually, things will re-set at a lower economic level. It will probably be much closer to the traditional north country way of life rather than the suburban ideal that some envision for the NNY.

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  24. Bret4207 says:

    Any problems we now face are the fault of our State gov’t and their shortsighted views. No one in the past 40 years I can think of ever said, “We need to save for a rainy day, we need to create a sustainable system in NYS that will work with far less revenue”. Instead it was “gimee, gimee, gimee!”. Well what did you expect folks? Take the liberal tax and borrow and spend paradigm and this is what you get. Take the modern RINO paradigm of borrow and spend and this is what you get. Let unions/socialists, public and private, keep demanding more and more and you can see what it brings- lay offs, unemployment, a lost manufacturing base, a ruined economy.

    So tell me how we fix it? What we need is to reduce spending and up our revenue. Are we going to do that with continued grants and handouts and new entitlements? Taxing the top 2% won’t even touch the problem. Better figure on raising taxes on the top 60-70% to make any real impact. Raise the sales tax to 9 or 10% and the property taxes too. Then we can keep buying up land for that state and handling out grants to anyone who is “disenfranchised” or claims some other victim status or has some wild “green” idea that won’t work.

    I’m telling you right now that you all better just strap in because the storm isn’t even on the horizon yet. This little blip is nothing and if you can’t see that and what’s probably around the corner you simply aren’t dealing with reality.

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  25. Mervel says:


    All employees at the SUNY’s have better benefits than employees at the private colleges. Lower wage workers all make more at SUNY than they do at SLU and Clarkson. I do believe Junior faculty may make more in wages at the private schools but it is close. In addition for example SLU has laid people off this year and has a wage freeze for the past year, no raises.

    While this is happening the SL county just passed another raise for all county employees and a retroactive raise for previous years. The state has continued marching forward with its raises etc.

    It is just not realistic to expect the state agencies to bypass reductions in this environment. In my opinion layoffs are a bad idea, but certainly wage freezes, wage reductions, benefit reductions would all be in order.

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  26. Mervel says:

    It shows how out of whack this state is when Cuomo proposes a 2.7% reduction in the total budget and it is called an “austerity” budget.

    Give me a break.

    The one thing I don’t here from the state employees is how this is going to hurt the poor and vulnerable, its all about them and protecting their wages and benefits.

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  27. phahn50 says:

    Mervel – yes its very likely that SUNY employees have better benefits than SLU employees but my point is that they are not paid better salaries – especially the higher paid employees. In general, the low wage public employees are paid better than private sector low wage employees, but the high-paid public employees are paid less than their private counterparts. That is a good thing, not a bad thing. Same with good benefits. If the total compensation package is the same, but more is put into benefits – health care and retirement – that is to the good of the employee, and something the public employee union negotiators should be proud of. The union negotiators should also be proud of winning raises for the lower-paid workers that are proportionally larger than the wage increases they win for (us) higher paid workers.

    this debate is similar to complaints about over-paying the servants (I am currently on vacation in Mexico).

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  28. Myown says:

    Understand the SeethroughNY website is brought to you by the conservative funded think tank Empire Center/Manhattan Institute whose agenda is to destroy unions in NY and drive a wedge of resentment between middle class private sector workers and middle class public employees. All the while conveniently ignoring the fact that the income and wealth of all the middle class is increasing being transferred to the super rich. In 1976 the richest 1% of Americans took home less than 9% of total US income. Today it is almost 24% – as it was in the days of the robber barons. Over the same period top income tax rates were cut by half or more. And the Bush “temporary” tax cuts are still in effect eight years later even though we have been waging two expensive wars (which is another transfer of middle class income to the Haliburtons and military-industrial corporations). So now we have huge deficits – which conservatives and Republicans want to fix by screwing the middle class even more by hacking away at public employees, Social Security, pensions and anything else that sustains the middle class.

    Where on that website does it list the absurd salaries of corporate CEOs, the outrageous bonuses of the Wall Street crooks that we bailed out and the obscene golden parachutes corporate executives get even though they run business into the ground? Yes the middle class is getting hosed, but not by public employees and their benefits. It is by tax-cutting politicians who put the interests of big business and their wealthy corporate elite benefactors ahead of the interests of the middle class. And too many middle class schmucks are so fervently hoping they can join the wealthy elite (which less likely than ever) that they are blinded the fact they are getting fleeced. No politician has the guts to talk about tax increases. And certainly not on the rich. Republicans insisted the Bush tax cuts be extended for the wealthy and Cuomo doesn’t want to continue a small tax on the NYS rich. If we don’t start to recognize the huge disparity and growing concentration wealth and its negative consequences to a stable society we will devolve back to Lords and serfs.

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  29. phahn50 says:

    That conservative think tank is also the major source of that misleading and highly inflammatory 20K salary differential (public vs private) that Brian has quoted. They actively imply that the state is overpaying each employee by 20K which is logically absurd. Many of the low wage state employees barely make 20K. Their goal is to make the rich richer by making the poor poorer.

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  30. scratchy says:

    So, is the info on SeeThrough NY somehow wrong just because the Empire Center started the website?

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  31. Mervel says:

    All that the website does is list the salaries of all of the public employees in NYS; I don’t know how that could be bad? I don’t begrudge lower wage workers from a decent wage it is a good thing, do we need 8600 government employees making over six figures though?

    As far as tax increases and larger state government go, if they worked; NYS should be fine as we have the highest taxes and one of the larger state governments in the nation, we should have lower rates of poverty than states that tax less we should have better public services than low tax states. But we don’t we have high rates of income disparity between the rich and poor in NYS we have high rates of poverty and ok public services. So why would we keep doing what we have been doing in the past? I am not against raising taxes on the very wealthy, particularly some of these Wall Street types who do truly make obscene amounts of money. But we should not kid ourselves that it will make a difference in our budget woes or in helping our state become less backward as far as poverty goes. It will simply go to keep the current machine operating, more poverty, more government employees and less business upstate.

    From where I sit the Wall Street guys and the government union bosses and the elites in Albany government are essentially the same, they are just fighting over relative parts of the pie.

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  32. JDM says:


    JDM – which public sector employees get 75% retirement at age 60?

    Teachers, for one.

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  33. phahn50 says:

    JDM – teachers arent state employees.

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  34. phahn50 says:

    Mervel – state employee salaries are public information. there is nothing inherently wrong in publishing peoples salaries, (although it is with a nasty intent). the problem is that they arent publishing corresponding private sector salaries. for example, if a lawyer working for the state department of health is paid X, is that more or less than a lawyer working for a private health insurance company? No way to tell.

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  35. Mervel says:

    I agree about the comparisons.

    I do think that if people agree to make their living from the taxes paid by the citizens then they should realize we all have a stake in their job and their income and we all have a say; they work directly for the citizens of the state.

    A private attorney who makes her living by charging legal fees to people for divorces or litigation is doing that privately I don’t have a say in what they do it is their private business not mine.

    I think open government is a good thing.

    I honestly think the more people learn about NYS government the less they will like, but I could be wrong? I think our gov is going to be very open in this fight about that I think he may have a good portion of the citizens on his side this time. A 2.7% reduction in the NYS budget should not trigger a massive crisis.

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  36. Myown says:

    “Do we need 8600 government employees making over six figures though?”
    What percentage is that of all public workers in NYS? And how many of those making the bigger salary are non-civil service employees that are political appointees?
    How many Wall Street executives and bankers make LESS than $100,000?
    The intent of the SeethroughNY website is to make public employees scapegoats and divert attention from where and who is grabbing the overwhelming portion of the state’s income and wealth. Personally I think a state worker who plows our roads is lot more useful than a Wall Street banker creating toxic financial derivatives.

    JDM – a state employee would have to work for at least 40 years to be eligible for that kind of pension percentage. The average pension benefit payment for a New York State and Local Employee Retirement System (ERS) retiree for State Fiscal Year 2009-10 was $18,300. How many million does a retired corporate executive get? And what will that wall street banker get? If they want to game the system in their goal of making absurd amounts of money, fine. But don’t whine about the comparative pittance that public employees receive for providing society with real services.

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  37. dbw says:

    There is a lot of misinformation out there. The only way a teacher could get a pension of 75% of their salary would be to work 40 years. There are darn few of those. I would guess that would apply to less than 10%. One teacher I have heard of had parents who retired as teachers thirty years ago, and are struggling financially today. To avoid a similar fate he is working longer and started a business on the side.

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  38. scratchy says:

    The point is we have a right to know how our tax dollars are spent. Making that information available to the general public is a good thing. How many local governments gave out raises last year?

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  39. Bret4207 says:

    According to that website I never worked for NYS. Neither did a bunch of other people I know who are still working for NYS.

    JDM, sorry man, but that claim is pretty far out there. The only NYS people I know of that could get 3/4 retirement were Tier 1 or 2 employees, and there just aren’t many of them left. Teachers may be a little different, but my wife just laughed when I passed on your claim to her. She’s never heard of anyone doing that either.

    I have a question for some of you with a more liberal bent- why do you get all po’d about a corporate executive making mega bucks, but not the sports stars, hollywood types, drug dealers, auto dealership owners, etc. that aren’t corporate, but are still raking in millions and millions? Oprah doesn’t exactly bust her back on TV, Brad Pitt just breathes and he gets zillions. I mean, if you want social justice shouldn’t those people be in your crosshairs with the CEO’s? After all, Oprah IS a CEO. Doesn’t make sense to me.

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  40. Myown says:

    I am not opposed to that info being known. But I am opposed to how it is featured in the absence of any other comparative data and the selective use of the data by the conservative funded think tank to portray public sector employees as overpaid selfish leeches with unreasonable benefits.

    “How many local governments gave out raises last year?” I don’t know, but if they did I guarantee it is small potatoes compared to the raises and bonuses the sharks at Goldman Sachs and their brethren received (and this is after being rescued with public funds). Where is that data on their web site?

    I agree with you. Tax wise there shouldn’t be any difference between corporate executives making mega bucks and sports stars, entertainers, etc. The discussion has been mostly about NY so there is emphasis on the mega bucks being made by the financial industry in NYC and of course the recent public bailout of those corporations.

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  41. phahn50 says:

    sports stars, rock stars, movie stars etc are kind of in a different category (for me)- they arent employees of a company – they are all entertainers. I suppose the CEOs and hedge fund directors think of themselves as “stars” who deserve their billions. The police chief of Mexico City, when I worked here 30 years ago made the same salary as me but became a billionaire. No one thought he deserved it. Its a good question.

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  42. phahn50 says:

    But Myown has a good point, anyone lucky enough to become fabulously wealthy – whether they deserve it or not – should be happy to pay lots and lots of taxes.

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  43. phahn50 says:

    and… as a comparison, the governor of the state functions as a CEO of a very large corporation, but we certainly dont think he deserves to become a billionaire while in office.

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  44. scratchy says:

    But many of the wealthy are not happy to pay lots and lots of taxes. Many of them, in fact, will (or already have) move to a state where they pay much less in taxes. That, in a nutshell, is the problem with your approach to solving NY’s fiscal problems.

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  45. Myown says:

    Well if the wealthy are going to hold NYS hostage with the threat of moving elsewhere if they have to pay more taxes then I guess maybe we should cut their taxes more or even pay them to stay in NYS and hope the trickle down theory will finally work.

    Actually your assessment argues for relying on more on taxes at the Federal level, where it is more uniform, and less at the state level so we can prevent the wealthy from playing the states against each other in the race to the lowest state taxes and lowest standard of living.

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  46. Mervel says:

    But states with low taxes don’t always have lower standards of living. This is the old falsehood; that somehow a large government with lots of employees and public spending helps the poor or helps those with lower incomes.

    Why does NYS have the same rate of poverty as West Virginia? If big government worked we should have a much higher standard of living than we do.

    However yes lets tax these Wall Street guys more I am for that, I just think it will make very little difference if it is not combined with putting the breaks on the Albany machine. The danger is by taxing more we will just continue on the path we are on now which is failing.

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  47. JDM says:

    phahn50 says, “JDM – teachers arent state employees.”

    Don’t know what to say to that. Maybe you think they are employed by McGraw-Hill or something??

    I suppose you think they aren’t public sector employees, either??

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  48. Bret4207 says:

    So, you libs, does it bother you at all that those miserable rich Goldman Sachs guys are the same guys giving Obama advice? Does it bother you that that incredibly wealthy CEO of GE is giving Obama advice and that GE’s subdivision NBC is the network getting first shot at al the White House press stuff? I mean, you guys go on and on about Fox for instance, yet it’s your President staffing his administration with evil Wall St types and making back room deals with more evil Wall St types. How do you square that?

    Mervel, don’t you think part of NYs high poverty rate is due to our lenient welfare requirements? Yeah, things are a little better than they used to be, but the ever shrinking workforce continues to support and ever growing welfare class. I don’t have a problem helping people that are trying, but I’m familiar with a lot of people who gave up on the concept of trying a couple generations back.

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  49. JDM says:


    More straight to my point is the over-commitment of the NYS retirement fund.

    The New York state fund is 77% funded, well above the national average of 54%, according to the analysis in the report. Nevertheless, New York still has a $25 billion gap that needs to be made up.

    At least we don’t have to worry about teachers anymore, per phahn50.

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  50. dbw says:

    Governmental entities have known all along what the pension obligations are and would be. In the case of the Teachers Pensions 86% of that obligation has been paid out of investment funds, lessening the burden on the taxpayer during the good years. Wouldn’t it have been wiser for those governmental agencies, recognizing the good years wouldn’t go on forever, to have perhaps put a modest amt. into a contingency fund, so they could better meet their obligations now?

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