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PEF moving to gain early ground in legislative, budget battles

By SHERRY HALBROOK

Although the governor will not present his Executive Budget proposals for 2021-22 until later in January, PEF is already identifying key bills, staking out the union’s positions on core issues and reaching out to state lawmakers.

The union’s statewide Political Action Committee is directing this effort and has worked with PEF legislative staff to provide information that’s been sent to members of the regional PACs.  PEF also provided them with training via Zoom on how to set up virtual meetings with their state lawmakers to discuss these foundational priorities.

“With the state facing deep fiscal shortfalls, 2021 calls for strong and swift measures to fund and maintain the quality public services that our members provide,” PEF Vice President Randi DiAntonio said.  “We have identified legislative measures that can help the state overcome these challenges and continue to meet the needs of all New Yorkers, while protecting the job security of our members.”

PEF is supporting several possible legislative measures that could significantly boost state revenues to offset the deficit, without costing more jobs and service cuts.

Randi DiAntonio – PEF Vice President

“While we are heartened that new leadership in Washington, D.C., will work harder to help states grapple with the financial challenges they face from the lost revenues and increased expenditures caused by the pandemic,” DiAntonio said, “the time has come for all New Yorkers to share in the burden of confronting the economic, social and public health realities of dealing with COVID-19. In order to protect our members’ jobs and the programs they administer, PEF has been working in coalition with other labor unions, interest groups and the Fiscal Policy Institute to develop and lobby for several revenue-raising measures that would help close the $15 billion gap in the 2020-21 enacted budget and the projected $15-20 billion budget gap expected for the 2021-22 fiscal year. These measures would affect only the very top income brackets and would require those with the highest disposable incomes to pay their fair share.”

“According to data from the state Department of Civil Service, the state has already lost more than 4,000 state employees since September 2019,” PEF President Wayne Spence said.  “State operations during this crisis rely too heavily on the dwindling number of state employees and the long-term reduction of state capacity has left taxpayers and residents who rely on state services shortchanged.  That needs to stop.”

Not only is PEF strongly opposed to further loss of state employees, it is moving quickly to head off any efforts to increase the state’s reliance on private contractors.

“That’s why we are staking out our positions on some fundamental funding and spending issues now,” DiAntonio said.

After spending more than $1 billion on private service contractors and after years of an artificial 2 percent state budget cap, chronic underfunding and the ongoing attrition of state agency staff, when the pandemic hit the state last year, the governor turned to the dedicated state workforce and asked them to put themselves at risk to fill the breach caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Now, only months after describing PEF members and other state employees as heroes, the governor has indicated that he may need to lay off ‘thousands’ of state workers to meet the budget gap,” Spence said.  “We are determined that this state, which has been relying  on our members to get New Yorkers through this crisis, is not going to get away with throwing them under the bus to make up for fiscal shortfalls and then hand their work off to private contractors.”

PEF has been sounding the alarm for years on the dangerous lack of nurses at many state health care facilities and the pandemic has brought that shortage into painfully sharp focus.

“We support a Nurse Employment, Enhancement and Dignity (NEED) Act that would provide hazardous duty pay and a $500 annual tax credit for professional or practical nurses, nurse practitioners, or clinical nurse specialists,” DiAntonio said., “It also would establish an education-related $1,000 annual loan-forgiveness program for them, and preferential acceptance into educational programs required for licensure.”

Criminal justice and community supervision is another area where PEF is taking early action to educate lawmakers on the realities of what it takes to foster rehabilitation and the successful community reintegration of incarcerated people.  Again, understaffing and underfunding essential programs sabotage those efforts.  Putting the state’s resources into the staffing and programs that support these goals is the way to achieve them, and PEF is already out there advocating for it.

“We are just getting started with these important efforts,” Spence said.  “Believe me, this is going to be a tough year and we need every PEF member informed and involved to make an effective case on our issues.  Lawmakers recognize that our members are on the frontlines and have first-hand knowledge and experience to know what works and what doesn’t.  We just need to carefully formulate our information and effectively share it with them.”