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N.Y. overtime spending requires careful monitoring

Auburn Citizen

A big spike in overtime at New York state agencies last year was to be expected — and a lot of it was certainly justified — but the state still needs to work on better managing its payroll.

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli recently reported that the state spent a record $850 million for more than 19 million hours of overtime last year. The coronavirus pandemic actually resulted in less spending is some places, such as at state universities that were forced to shut their doors and send a lot of employees home, but in other fields it was all hands on deck.

“The COVID-19 pandemic required state workers across New York to work long, grueling hours to deal with a crisis never before seen during our lifetime,” DiNapoli said in a statement.

Indeed, addressing issues related to the pandemic led to an increase in overtime at the Department of Labor of nearly 18,000% and an increase at the Department of Health of 288%. The pandemic created an emergency situation, and the need to address it is reflected in overtime spending for 2020. But the latest figures also point out a trend that has nothing to do with COVID-19 — the fact that state overtime spending has consistently risen over the past 10 years.

The overtime report isn’t all bad news, as nearly a dozen state agencies saw a decrease over the past year. But the pandemic can’t take all the blame for the overall increase when overtime continues to rise every year.

To be fair, the state has made some gains. The average number of workers outside of the higher education system is down 6.1% since 2011, but some agencies seem to be increasingly relying on overtime to get their work done.

A certain amount of overtime is better than growing government by adding more employees, but now that the state is emerging from the pandemic, it’s a good time to reassess needs and continue to try to find the right balance between the size of the workforce and the growing need for people to work extra hours.

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