During his gubernatorial campaign, Andrew Cuomo pledged to institute a salary freeze for all state workers in 2011. It would be an effort to narrow the state’s budget gap — one whose effect is partially symbolic, as it would save the state only $200 million to $400 million of the projected $9 billion deficit. According to the Times, he’ll raise the issue during Wednesday’s State of the State speech in Albany. In doing so, he’s setting his sights directly on the powerful unions that traditionally wield substantial power in the capital. He can freeze the salaries on his own, without the cooperation of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a staunch union ally. That puts him in direct negotiation with the unions, an encounter that can be viewed as a litmus test on how effective Cuomo will be in battling Albany’s entrenched interests.
Most of the labor contracts for the state’s 190,000 employees expire at the end of March. He’s entering the fray from a strong position — President Obama ordered a wage freeze for federal workers in November, and many other governors are grappling with the same issue in order to breach their own budget gaps. Also, he’s expressed nonchalance toward one of organized labor’s most potent weapons: scathing advertising. The union ads that strafed the weaker Governor Paterson during his brief tenure won’t be as effective on a popularly elected governor in his first year, particularly one who saved millions from his campaign war chest — and is therefore able to finance his own ads in response.