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Guest Column: State Sen. Tom O'Mara
"The cost of downsizing"
ALBANY, Aug. 5 -- According to the state Division of the Budget (DOB), New York State faces budget deficits of $2 billion in state fiscal year 2014-15, and $2.9 billion in each of the following two years.
Keep in mind that these projected budget gaps exist despite the fiscal discipline of the past three years, when Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature have held state spending growth to under 2% annually for the first time in a long, long time, and other actions have been ongoing to downsize, consolidate and inject long-overdue fiscal sense into many state government operations, as well as to rein in the cost of numerous programs and services.
These projections make two overriding points. First – and foremost – they beg a question: what kind of a mess were New York’s finances in in the years just prior to the beginning of the fiscal reform we initiated since 2011? That’s a long story but, in short, it wasn’t pretty and many of us said so at the time.
But we need to keep the DOB projections in mind for an equally, if not even more important point: even with all we’ve accomplished in the arena of fiscal responsibility over the past three years, we’re clearly not out of the woods. A recent state comptroller’s report warned that other factors, such as slower-than-expected economic growth, could bump these budget gaps to “$6 billion or more.” So moving forward, fiscal responsibility still remains foremost on the state’s to-do list. Count me on board with that commitment.
But I share all of the above now primarily as the set-up to questioning some of the Cuomo administration’s recent actions, particularly the announced shutdown of inpatient services at the Elmira Psychiatric Center (Elmira PC) and the planned closing of the Monterey Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility next year.
In general these actions are touted by the administration as moves that are cost effective and that make fiscal sense for New York State in the long run. As I’ve said repeatedly over the past few years – whether speaking about the need to cut fraud and waste in Medicaid or abuses in other programs -- I’m more often than not all-in when it comes to smarter and smaller government. But I’m far from convinced that’s the case with the Elmira PC or Monterey. I’m not alone in raising questions about each of the Cuomo administration strategies under way to transform New York’s systems of corrections and mental health.
So working together with local leaders, we’re going to see if we can make a better case to the administration – to make the case that we should find more effective ways to achieve the short- and long-term goals we share.
An online Join The Fight! petition I began a few weeks ago in support of the Elmira Psychiatric Center keeps gaining steam and has now drawn nearly 2,000 supporters. It’s one important way to give voice to our concerns. We’ll be undertaking a similar effort on behalf of the Monterey Shock Incarceration facility.
I found it a particularly troubling case of bad timing last week when it was reported that the Cuomo administration is hiring nearly two dozen new top-level administrators within the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS). According to DOCCS, they are hiring 22 “assistant deputy superintendents,” at salaries of up to nearly $85,000 annually.
So I joined the New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association in opposition to the need for this “new bureaucracy,” especially at the same time the state is shutting down upstate correctional facilities. The hard working men and women at our correctional facilities deserve better. It adds insult to injury to the corrections officers and prison staff whose jobs and safety are at stake, and who could be uprooted from their homes and communities.
It seems hard to justify closing Monterey and other correctional facilities on one hand while hiring an expensive new layer of DOCCS bureaucracy with the other. It’s pretty straightforward to me: now’s not the time for a new bureaucracy. It’s simply not in keeping with the goal of trying to stretch every taxpayer dollar.
So too many of the Cuomo administration’s recent actions don’t appear well thought out and unfairly target our region and other struggling upstate communities. The administration has the authority to act unilaterally in some instances. It’s the governor’s bureaucracy to run as he sees fit. But those of us who represent the communities, the workers, the patients and the families being impacted have a right to ask why, to inquire how (and what’s next), to paint a different picture and to urge the Cuomo administration to reconsider.
It appears hard to improve upon the Elmira PC’s record of fiscal effectiveness and operational success. The same goes for Monterey. In short, we have an obligation to ensure that we’re being treated fairly, reasonably and that the impacts of the plan are fully thought through. Numerous concerns need raising:
-- it’s one thing to provide assurances in a news release, but quite another to have a specific transition plan in place for any displaced employees and their families. What’s the plan?
-- how do we offset the economic impact of these losses for the affected upstate communities?
-- are the far-reaching and significant changes taking place in correctional services and mental health the right moves for the right reasons?
The work of getting answers to these concerns – and many others – is underway. I’ll do my best to keep you posted.
Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara
Schuyler County Officials
Top row (from left): Dennis Fagan, Thomas Gifford, Doris Karius, Glenn Larison
Bottom row: Michael A. Yuhasz, Barbara Halpin, Phil Barnes, Stewart Field
Dennis Fagan, Tyrone 607-292-3687
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
Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand
United States Senate
State Senator Tom O'Mara -- Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, western Tompkins, Enfield, Ithaca (Town and City), Newfield, Ulysses(Trumansburg)
Room 812, Legislative Office Building
Assemblyman Christopher Friend --
Chemung, Schuyler, Tioga
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869