When Eliot Spitzer was governor he talked about the "perfect storm of unaffordability" that was inexorably chugging its way toward the state and local governments. Employee salaries and benefits were a major part of that storm - comprising 71 percent of municipal government operating expenses at that time in 2007.
The situation has only grown worse.
As we reported last week, while Jamestown Mayor Sam Teresi's executive budget for 2013 recommends reducing the amount budgeted for employee salaries, benefits are on schedule to increase by about 6 percent. With that increase, salaries and benefits will consume 76 percent of the entire $33.4 million the city will spend next year.
There is not a thing City Council or the mayor can do it about because of a state law that sets out ground rules for unions to organize public employees in counties, cities, towns, villages and school districts. The Taylor Law tips the scale of fairness so off kilter that the unions virtually run the tables.
But the Republican-controlled state Senate has plenty of chances to make a difference and will again next year. Ironically the Senate need only do nothing when a section of the state Taylor Law expires in June.
It is the section of the law that requires compulsory arbitration by a third-party panel for police and fire fighters. Simply put, for Jamestown and its tax-paying property owners, compulsory arbitration has been insidious.
Under the Taylor Law, if the police or firefighter unions reach an impasse in contract negotiations with the city, an outside arbitration panel imposes a binding settlement - regardless of how much property taxes must increase to pay for it.
''As one might expect, an unelected panel of non-residents of a community are not going to be sensitive to the financial capacity of local taxpayers when it issues compulsory arbitration awards,'' notes the New York Conference of Mayors citing a 2007 report issued by the Empire Center for New York State Policy entitled ''Taylor Made - The Costs and Consequences of New York's Public Sector Labor Laws.''
You can see the consequences of binding arbitration, the report says, in the fact that in most places, the average salaries of police and firefighters, between 1997 and 2007, rose faster than those of non-uniformed state and local employees.
This "salary surge" is due in part to the fact that binding arbitration not only acts as an incentive for the unions to push negotiations to impasse and let the usually pro-union arbitrator decide, but it also persuades employers to agree to terms they may have otherwise rejected merely due to the threat of binding arbitration, the report notes.
The kick-in-the-head part of all of this is that the binding arbitration provision expires in June every other year.
Yes. In June 2013, as it has every two years for the past four decades, the state Legislature has to vote to renew the binding arbitration section of the Civil Service Law.
We accept that it is unrealistic to expect the Democrat-controlled union friendly state Assembly to let the binding arbitration provision expire.
But what about the Republicans in the state Senate?
If they hang onto the majority in November's election, it will be time for the leadership of the state Senate next year, as well as our own Sen. Catharine Young, to take up the banner for common sense and fairness.
It seems to us that by simply doing nothing when it is time to vote to renew the Taylor Law provision, our state senators will do more to help beleaguered cities across the state weather that perfect storm of unaffordabilty than any other thing they will do next year.