RAISING AN ISSUE

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The Democratic candidates for mayor have all been doing their darnedest to capture the all-important support of the city’s municipal unions. But City Comptroller Alan Hevesi has outdone his colleagues’ workaday stump talk. In black-and-white in his own budget proposals, he’s signaled that he’s prepared to give the unions their first healthy contract raise in years.

Hevesi’s official business last Thursday was a cumbersome triangulation: a critique of the City Council’s response to the mayor’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2002. (“This is not about individuals,” he stressed at a press conference, in response to the obvious question of whether this was an attack on rival candidate Peter Vallone, speaker of the council.) Calling the council’s numbers “just unreal”–and asserting they would leave a $3 billion hole in the city’s finances–he outlined several big budget factors he believed their data-crunchers should have factored in, including a stalling economy, unaccounted costs of shrinking school class sizes and the need to eliminate Manhattan’s commercial rent tax.

But the biggest cost by far was the price tag of upcoming labor agreements. In its counter-budget, the council used the mayor’s stingy figures of 2.5 percent a year for the next two years, with zero budgeted for the three years following that. (“We don’t get involved in that,” said council budget analyst Larian Angelo, referring to contract negotiations. “The things we put in our budget are things we have influence on.”)

Hevesi told New Yorkers to count on much bigger hikes. How big? Look to last year’s landmark contract agreements in Albany, where state workers got a wage package good for more than 13 percent over the next four years–that’s what the comptroller’s office did, figuring out a pay hike that will add up to about $1.5 billion by fiscal year 2005. A proposed raise that size would bring the city unions into the ballpark of city transit workers’ new 12 percent, three-year contract, which is expected to set the pattern for negotiations on city worker deals being renegotiated over the next couple of years.

Spokesperson David Neustadt insists that the comptroller’s balance sheet should not be taken as an indication of what Hevesi intends to negotiate: “The report is an analysis of what the risks are. There’s no implied, explicit or any other suggestion of what the settlement should be.”