ALBANY -- Gov. David Paterson said Tuesday he's putting together a plan that would lay off thousands of state government workers at the beginning of next year to help balance the state budget.
Paterson said he'll direct state agencies to begin picking positions that could be eliminated starting Jan. 1.
That date marks the expiration of a no-layoffs pledge Paterson gave public employee unions last year in exchange for an agreement to reduce pension costs. It would also be the day he leaves office. A final decision on layoffs would fall to his successor.
"It's the only way we're going to get $250 million in work force reductions from public employees. ... We are in the elementary stages of establishing a plan," Paterson said. "The reality is right now it takes a long period of time to schedule the layoffs. I want this ready to go for the next governor."
Paterson has been calling for concessions from state worker unions, including a delay in a 4 percent raise that was scheduled to kick in April 1.
A federal judge last week rejected Paterson's plan to reduce the state payroll through once-a-week furloughs. Ruling in a lawsuit brought by the unions, Judge Lawrence Kahn concluded the administration failed to prove that it had exhausted other measures and that breaking negotiated contracts was a necessity.
The governor has imposed a general hiring freeze on executive agencies, slowed state contract payments and issued a series of short-term spending measures that have limited spending while insisting lawmakers accept further cuts in a budget for the year.
State leaders are facing a $9.2 billion deficit and haven't been able to agree on a proposed $130 billion budget covering the fiscal year that started April 1.
Stephen Madarasz, a spokesman for the Civil Service Employees Association, said the $250 million in payroll savings sought by Paterson represents only a fraction of the deficit. He called Tuesday's announcement "more counterproductive rhetoric."
The CSEA represents about 70,000 executive branch employees who could be affected by layoffs, which Madarasz said is about 40 percent of the total.
Many of the others are represented by the state Public Employees Federation.
According to the state Comptroller's office, the state had 268,917 employees on the payroll in early May.
"The real issue is to get the Legislature together and deal with the budget," Madarasz said. "At some level he's got to remember that to state employees, he's the boss. Bosses who threaten their employees are not held in high esteem."
Budget Director Robert Megna said later Tuesday that he doesn't know the number of layoffs needed, and that it will depend on how many state workers retire first. Paterson will shortly sign legislation establishing new temporary retirement incentives, spokesman Morgan Hook said.
Incentives include allowing eligible employees to retire at age 55 after 25 years of service with no reduction in benefits and adding a month of pension benefit credits for some workers for each year of service up to three years.