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Judge blocks governor's worker furloughs, at least temporarily

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A federal judge yesterday blocked Governor David Paterson from imposing furloughs on about 100,000 state workers until he rules on union lawsuits that could stop the furloughs altogether.
The legislature reluctantly approved unpaid one-day-a-week furlough as part of another short-term budget extender Monday. They were to take effect next Monday.
Karen DeWitt reports.

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Karen DeWitt
NYS Capitol Correspondent


The Judge, Lawrence Kahn, has imposed a temporary restraining order on the furloughs until at least the end of May, until a hearing can be held on the constitutional challenges that four unions have brought against Governor Paterson's plan to enact one day a week furloughs.

In the order, the judge says that any future emergency spending bills must not include the furloughs, and that Paterson also cannot dock state workers 4% raises agreed to in their contracts. The raises were supposed to have taken effect in early April, but the governor has delayed them.

Paterson called the ruling "unfortunate."

The President of the state's largest public worker union, Danny Donohue of the Civil Service Employees Association, called the ruling a "major victory for working people." 

A spokeswoman for the Public Employees Federation, Darcy Wells, says "the decision will allow state services to continue uninterrupted and prevent hardships to taxpayers who depend on them."

Earlier in the day, in an interview, Paterson expressed optimism that he would ultimately win in the courts, saying he hoped to achieve "the savings that we need" from the furloughs. The governor is seeking $250 million in givebacks from the workforce.

The governor also criticized the unions for not making any sacrifices during a time of severe fiscal crisis, saying their only ideas were to get rid of outside private contractors and hire more state workers to do the jobs.

"That's like when the Titanic is sinking and somebody is telling you there's a shipment of bottled water," Paterson aid.

The judge's restraining order comes on a day in which Governor David Paterson rescinded pay raises for five members of his top staff, saying the salary increases had become a "distraction" in the midst of the furlough fight.

Paterson says said he did nothing wrong when he approved the raises of around $5000 for five workers in his press and executive offices earning $35,000 to $75,000 a year. He says he decided to pull the salary increases because they were diverting attention from the central issue- New York's financial crisis and the need to achieve savings.

"This is really a game of semantics," said Paterson.

The governor says the press office overall is actually saving money, because it's two highest paid officials recently quit. Communications Director Peter Kauffman and Press Secretary Marissa Shorenstein , who were paid a combined salary of over $300,000 a year, quit in protest over a scandal involving an alleged domestic violence incident by a former top aid to the governor.

Before the judge's order canceling the furloughs for now came down, state agencies had been busy making plans to respond to the furloughs. Many, including the Department of Motor Vehicles, Division of the Lottery and Tax Department, had planned to be closed next Friday. Now, the state offices will be open, after all.

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