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It has to be more than symbolism... It has to be action and results.

Cuomo leading "by example"

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As the new year, and a new administration begins, New York State is facing a deficit now estimated at $10 billion.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to outline an "emergency" plan to address the red ink tomorrow in his state of the state address. He gave a preview over the weekend, announcing he'd seek wage concessions from state worker unions.

Cuomo says he'll lead "by example" - and yesterday, he gave himself a pay cut.
And in another sign of what could be a new era in Albany, state Senate Republicans took steps to make their offices more accessible to the public.
Karen DeWitt has more.

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Karen DeWitt
NYS Capitol Correspondent

Cuomo announced that he will voluntarily reduce his $179,000 a year salary by 5%, as well as the salaries of Lieutenant Governor Robert Duffy and top staff, saying he is setting an example.

“It’s not normal that people start a job and get a pay cut on the second day, but these are extraordinary times,” said Cuomo. “And I think it’s an important point to make.”

Cuomo says every area of state government will have to make sacrifices in the next few months. The state faces a nearly $10 billion dollar budget gap, and the new governor has made clear he will not permit any spending or tax increases, saying “those days are over”. Cuomo says he believes a wage freeze is “necessary”, and likened to the situation to the fiscal crisis of New York City in the 1970’s when union leaders made concessions that ultimately helped to restore fiscal health.

Steve Madarasz, a spokesman for the state’s largest public workers union, the Civil Service Employees Association, says the talk of a wage freeze is for now just that- talk.

“It really comes to down to, at this point, just more political rhetoric,” Madarasz said. “There hasn’t been an actual, formal proposal, so it’s very difficult for us to respond to it.”

The present Union contracts, which included raises of 3 to 4% each year, expire March 31st, and Madarasz says whether there’s a pay freeze or not will come as the result of the collective bargaining process.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Republican, did not have much sympathy for workers who might be seeking a pay raise.

“We’ve had a pay freeze for twelve years,” Skelos said.

The legislature’s salaries were last increased in 1999. Skelos says he “philosophically” supports Cuomo’s position on a wage freeze. The new Majority Leader, when asked about Cuomo’s voluntary 5% pay reduction, says it’s going to take more than that to turn around the state’s fiscal mess. 

“It has to be more than symbolism,” said Skelos. “It has to be action and results.” 

The new Senate Majority Leader also, on the first  day that Republicans once again achieved control of the Senate,  dismantled barriers set up to block access to the Majority Leader’s office and Senate conference rooms. The area had always been open, but the blockades were erected by the Democrats during their two years in power in the Senate, an act Skelos called “totally offensive.”

It was the second time in three days that portion of the Capitol closed to the public had been reopened. On New Year’s Day, Cuomo ended restrictions on access to the historic Hall of Governors, which includes the governor’s own suite of offices.

Skelos says he’s willing to support plans Cuomo may have for spending cuts, but a member of the Assembly, Gary Pretlow, a Westchester Democrat, says he doubts that the $10 billion dollars in savings required can come from cuts alone.

“There’s no way we could possibly cut that in just one fell swoop,” Pretlow said. “Because it would have to come from education.”

He says education has been a “sacred cow” in the legislature, and there will be great resistance to reductions.

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