CAPITOL Eight months after it was due, the draft of a plan to make state government leaner and meaner has been approved by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s SAGE Commission.
Launched in the spring of 2011, the Spending and Government Efficiency (SAGE) Commission was tasked with modernizing and shrinking state government. There have been preliminary proposals, like the elimination of 760 state jobs to save $178 million over five years, but the final report missed its June 1, 2012 due date.
The governor’s office would not comment on the draft Thursday.
SAGE Commission draft proposals
• Consider merging the state Department of Transportation, Thruway Authority and Bridge Authority
• Create one statewide call center for all departments
• Use SUNY police officers at state parks in the summer
• New efficiency guidelines for state departments
A final draft report was approved by the commission on Jan. 31, according to three state legislators on the commission.
It is not clear when a final draft will be released by the Cuomo administration, although some ideas from the report have already been completed, are under way, were included in this year’s proposed budget, or will require future action.
Because of the secrecy surrounding the final draft, some of the proposals caught legislators off guard when they were introduced in the governor’s proposed budget. A statewide call center, similar to New York City’s 311 system, was recommended in the final draft and a version of this idea received funding in the budget.
That had Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk asking questions on Wednesday.
“It’s the first time I have heard of the call center,” said Tkaczyk, D-Duanesburg, during the public hearing on the human services portion of the budget.
State Office of Children and Family Services Commissioner Gladys Carrion, whose office received funding for a call center, responded that this project is in its development phase. Two other departments also received money for a call center, with the plan to have these three centers servicing 30 departments.
Carrion said her department’s call center, which doesn’t have a location chosen yet, will handle human services units.
Downstate Democratic Sen. Liz Krueger, who serves on the SAGE commission, said she is a strong supporter of this project, which will allow for a smooth flow of information. The consolidation would eventually allow people to call one central number instead of reaching out to various agencies.
“I’m from New York City and I know 311 has been a massive improvement,” Krueger said.
An ongoing Cuomo priority, which is also a core mission of the SAGE Commission, is reducing the number of state agencies, authorities and commissions. The commission’s mandate calls for a 20 percent reduction in state departments.
Since 2011, the state’s racing and lottery departments have merged, the corrections and parole departments merged and the departments of banking, insurance and consumer protection merged.
Closings and mergers recommended by the SAGE Commission are specifically exempted from workforce reduction protections in CSEA and PEF contracts, which means they could lead to layoffs.
A proposed merger of the state’s Department of Transportation, Thruway Authority and Bridge Authority that was recommended by the commission in a December 2011 report, is downplayed in the final report, according to Republican Assemblywoman Jane Corwin, commission member. “There is a lot involved in doing something like this,” Corwin said, explaining the need for additional debate.
Any mergers, she added, will be common sense.
Another idea would have been folding the state’s Office of Parks Recreation & Historic Preservation into the Department of Environmental Conservation. Long Island Democratic Assemblyman Steve Englebright, who served on the commission, revealed on Monday that the commission’s final report would advise against such a merger.
“That was a great apprehension,” he said.
Englebright is excited about a proposal on page 125 of the draft report, which recommends using State University of New York police officers at state parks during the summer. “I remember where it is because it’s among recommendations for consideration,” he said.
Because the policing needs of the SUNY system decrease in the summer and the demand increases at parks, Englebright said the idea made sense. “It is something that might be further explored. I think it can save money and protect property and maybe save some lives,” he said.
“This idea is thinking out of the box,” Englebright said, “which is one thing the SAGE Commission intended to do.”
To help generate these types of ideas, the commission had members from the private sector. Corwin credited their influence with helping to advance accountability measures that will ensure state taxpayers are getting a bang for their buck from state departments.
To Krueger, these metrics and performance evaluations, as means of gauging how effectively the state is spending money and providing services, were essential. She noted successful bi-annual management report cards in New York City an example for the state.
Krueger said she was happy with some of the proposals in the final draft and disagreed with some, but was ultimately pleased with the commission’s willingness to try new ideas. “Government is by definition dynamic,” she said.
From this point the final recommendations will move in different ways, most likely starting with an official unveiling at the Capitol.
Corwin said the public likely will have a chance to see the recommendations and then ideas not already being developed will get administrative action, legislative action or be the subject of additional conversations.