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Guest Column: State Sen. Tom O'Mara

"Plans for a long-overdue cleanup"

ALBANY, Feb. 25 -- One of the Cuomo administration’s earliest initiatives in 2011, one that was rolled out with great fanfare as a cornerstone for a total makeover of New York government, was the call for a state-level commission to drill down deep into the operations of state agencies – especially their spending practices.

To put it bluntly, a commission to start cleaning up the mess. Many had long suspected that the state bureaucracy had become like a rundown house -- old windows, an outdated furnace, a leaky roof and all that. A victim of homeowner neglect.

So this new commission, the Spending and Government Efficiency Commission (commonly called the SAGE Commission) set out to take its own inspection after it was established as part of the 2011-12 state budget. I’ve written about it from time to time over the past few years to keep you updated, because I think it’s important. SAGE has been charged with producing recommendations for the first major overhaul of the state bureaucracy since the late 1920s. In fact, the last similarly extensive
reorganization took place in 1927 under the administration of Governor Al Smith.

Keep in mind that we’re not talking about the big ticket items here, like Medicaid spending. The programs and services responsible for the state’s largest expenditures, like Medicaid and education, deserve – and have been getting – their own, separate looks.

What we’ve been talking about with SAGE are those behind-the-scenes actions that might seem like minor news until you start stacking them one on top of the other and they start to add up to real savings. It’s like the old saying, “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money.”

Let’s recall exactly what we’re talking about. Shortly after SAGE’s creation came reports in the New York Times and the New York Post about investigators uncovering “massive waste” in New York State government. State agencies paying $9 a dozen for ballpoint pens. Millions of dollars being spent on toll-free telephone numbers that hadn’t received a call in months. One top administration official said, “There is no end to the horror stories.”

I wrote about these so-called “efficiency probes” at the time and basically said this: Keep turning the page on the state’s fiscal practices. We’ve long suspected that out-of-control spending has undermined the state bureaucracy. Now we’re finding out that’s exactly the case. And now we need to get our own house in order. We can’t focus enough on rooting out the waste, inefficiencies and mismanagement that have clearly taken hold of state government in too many places and throughout
too many operations. Keep going.

The SAGE Commission has kept going – to the point where I can provide an update on its final recommendations. It went largely unnoticed in the swirl of other actions taking place at the Capitol around the same time, but two weeks ago SAGE released its final report. The recommendations are
“expected to save over $1.6 billion once fully implemented, improve service to citizens and businesses, and increase transparency and accountability.”

I’ll make two points.

Point #1: At a time when government resources are stretched to the breaking point, nearly $2 billion in potential efficiency savings is a big deal. So the SAGE report deserves attention. It may not have been headline worthy, but it’s the kind of nuts-and-bolts agenda that can make a difference. I’m still going through it. You can find the full report online here:

The specific recommendations are far too detailed to review one-by-one here, but the agenda breaks down into the following three categories:
-- reorganizing the state bureaucracy through consolidations, rightsizing, modernization, mergers and better planning;
-- reducing costs and improving service; and
-- building a long-term culture of performance and accountability.

Point #2: actions need to follow words. We’ve seen reports come and go in New York government for decades. But they’ve come and gone and nothing’s changed.

I’m under no illusion that every single SAGE recommendation is going to be swallowed hook, line and sinker, or that this chapter is now officially closed on cleaning up the state bureaucracy. However, as I’ve said so many times before over the past several years: there can be no turning back this time. That, I think, is the real difference this time.

The taxpayers I hear from are demanding this long-overdue accounting. And they’re right.

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara


Schuyler County Officials

Legislature Members:

Top row (from left): Dennis Fagan, Thomas Gifford, Doris Karius, Glenn Larison

Bottom row: Michael A. Yuhasz, Barbara Halpin, Phil Barnes, Stewart Field


Legislature Chairman

Dennis Fagan, Tyrone 607-292-3687

Legislature Members:

Michael A. Yuhasz, 535-4967

Doris L. Karius, 546-5544

Barbara Halpin, 594-3683

Glenn R. Larison, 594-3385

Thomas M. Gifford, 535-9517

Phil Barnes, Watkins Glen 481-0482

Stewart Field, Watkins Glen 535-2335

County Clerk: Linda Compton, 535-8133

Sheriff: William Yessman, 535-8222

Undersheriff: Breck Spaulding, 535-8222

County Treasurer: Margaret Starbuck, 535-8181

District Attorney: Joseph Fazzary, 535-8383


State, Federal Officials for Schuyler County

Sen. Charles E. Schumer

United States Senate
313 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-3201
DC Phone: 202-224-6542
DC Fax: 202-228-3027
Email Address:

Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand

United States Senate
478 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
DC Phone: 202-224-4451

State Senator Tom O'Mara -- Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, western Tompkins, Enfield, Ithaca (Town and City), Newfield, Ulysses(Trumansburg)

Room 812, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12247
Phone: (518) 455-2091
Fax: (518) 426-6976

Assemblyman Christopher Friend -- Chemung, Schuyler, Tioga
Room 720, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12248
Phone: (518) 455-4538


© The Odessa File 2011
Charles Haeffner
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869