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Guest Column: State Sen. Tom O'Mara
“Sizing it up”
ALBANY, April 25 -- Government has been very good at creating commissions and task forces to study tough and divisive issues. But more often than not the follow-through on recommended reforms, as most of us know by now, has been less than stellar.
There are many examples. In fact, you could go all the way back to 1982 for a telling reminder. Back then former President Ronald Reagan had been swept into office on the call for smaller, less expensive government. He appointed what became known as the “Grace Commission” to find ways to get the waste and inefficiency out of the federal government. The Grace Commission was a high-profile group headed by some of the nation’s most prominent private-sector leaders at the time, including our own Amo Houghton, who was still chairman of Corning Glass Works and served as the Grace Commission’s vice-chairman.
The Grace Commission reported 30 years ago that one-third of all income taxes collected by Washington was consumed by waste and inefficiency. It issued a wide range of cost-saving recommendations and warned that if they weren’t followed, the national debt would rise to $13 trillion by the year 2000.
So what happened? Well it sure sounds to me like the very same challenge the Grace Commission tried to confront, namely out-of-control federal spending, is still plaguing the national government. It’s a debate that’s dominating Washington at this very moment. And by the way, the Grace Commission’s warning about inaction and the size of the national debt was pretty accurate. The commission predicted $13 trillion by the turn of the 21st century. We’re now at $14 trillion and rising.
So on it goes.
It’s also worth recalling, I think, a 2008 report from the New York State Commission on Local Government Efficiency & Competitiveness, the so-called “Lundine Commission.” This 15-member commission, chaired by former Southern Tier Congressman Stan Lundine, was created to study and make recommendations on how New York’s 4,200 local governments could provide public services more cooperatively, efficiently, and cost-effectively.
"This is a complex undertaking, and one that will require a continuing partnership with local governments and an ongoing effort across many state agencies. State and local programs both need to be reviewed on a continuing basis," the commission stated in its final report, “21st Century Local Government.”
I couldn’t agree more. The Lundine Commission estimated more than $1 billion in cost savings to local governments. Unfortunately the report got lost in the downfall of former Governor Eliot Spitzer and the subsequently rocky administration of former Governor David Paterson. But the blueprint’s still out there, somewhere, spelling out strategies to restructure the efficiency and effectiveness of government in achievable, common sense ways.
Flip the pages to today and a new governor, Andrew Cuomo, who’s just appointed the members of the Spending and Government Efficiency (SAGE) Commission. This commission was created as part of the new state budget and it’s intended to undertake the first major overhaul of state government since 1927. It’s headed by Antonio M. Perez, chairman and CEO of the Rochester-based Eastman Kodak Company, who said, “New York State government must also adapt to reflect current fiscal realities and take advantage of new technologies and ways of operating so that it can efficiently and effectively provide critical government services."
Will the SAGE Commission replay a familiar story, or open a new chapter on government reform? Everything points to a fresh start, for several reasons. The driving force has been the simple fact that the economic and fiscal climate leaves no choice but to turn toward less expensive government. We’ve seen the start of widespread restructuring, especially within Medicaid, as part of this year’s budget. The budget also included several agency consolidations.
But the battle has many other fronts. The success of the SAGE Commission is important. There’s finally an urgency to act, and we simply can’t afford more missed opportunities.
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