Mayor Warms to Retirement Incentive But Won’t Put Layoffs on Hold

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Mayor de Blasio was cool to the suggestion by Municipal Labor Committee Chairman Harry Nespoli that he put layoffs on hold until after the presidential election Nov. 3, but he expressed support Sept. 21 for the MLC’s proposal that an early-retirement incentive be passed in Albany to potentially induce tens of thousands of city workers to leave the payroll voluntarily.

“I fear that we have to think about this beyond just the election, and so I think the problem we’re all experiencing here is that help just hasn’t come from where we expect it to,” Mr. de Blasio said in response to a reporter’s question at his daily briefing. “We expect it to come from Washington and the stimulus we expect to come from Albany in the form of long-term borrowing–it hasn’t. The clock is running.”

He continued, “I don’t think we can keep putting off things, you know, constantly. We have to find some kind of solution as quickly as possible, and that’s what we’re still trying to do with labor.”

‘Part of the Package’

But regarding a retirement incentive under which employees would be given additional pension credit, he said, “I’ve spoken to the leadership of the Legislature in Albany and many members of the Legislature, and there’s a strong consensus that early retirement will have to be part of this package.”

He cautioned, however, that it would produce the hundreds of millions in savings its advocates suggested only “if you’re going to not replace” those who retired early. “So, it still comes down to how many jobs we’re going to be able to save going forward and the services we need to provide to the people.”

The Mayor also acknowledged that the retirement incentive could help the city preserve gains it has made in diversifying the municipal job ranks. “Across the city workforce, we see more diversity, obviously notable in many places like the NYPD, which is now majority people of color,” he said. “We need to keep ensuring that the [Department of Education] continues to become more diverse. So, you’re right, this has been a central concern, and it does bring us back to the earlier question. I think early retirement as a policy is something we have to put into play.”

Six days earlier, Republican City Council Member Joseph Borelli and Democrat Robert Cornegy told reporters an early retirement program would yield hundreds of millions of dollars in annual savings.

They cited the 2010 state retirement incentive during a fiscal crunch in which 9,311 city and state employees, with a net savings of $680 million took advantage of the ERI,” said Mr. Borelli. “This took $1.4 billion of collective payroll and replaced it with $755 million in pension costs,” a net savings of $680 million annually after pension costs were subtracted.

Getting Mixed Message

Dr. Harriet Fraad, a mental-health professional whose clients include city workers, said during a phone interview that many employees were in “a terrible state of anxiety, being told they are essential but also being told at the same time that they are disposable.”

The Mayor’s bid to win approval in Albany for an additional $5 billion in borrowing authority hit yet another speed bump that day when the Council’s Finance Committee postponed a hearing on the measure.

According to the Daily News, that occurred because of the administration’s “failure to agree to send top officials, including Budget Director Melanie Hartzog, to testify.”

“I do think it’s important that we have a top administration official comes before the Council to discuss the full plan,” Council Member Keith Powers explained. “I believe I join most New Yorkers who want to see a plan that identifies new revenue sources, finds additional savings in the budget, and only as a last resort, utilizes borrowing.”