Russell: There Are No Sacred Cows in Budget

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By Jude Seymour

The state cannot afford to protect any program or service when it deliberates how to erase its $9 billion budget deficit, Assemblywoman Addie Russell said.

"It's such a big hole to fill," Russell told 7 News reporter Katie Alexander. "And really, there's such a need to reorganize the state. We have just gotten so big and bloated and not really efficient."

Russell's comments echo those made recently by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who Russell said told Assembly Democrats to focus on "which agencies and which part of the state we can get rid of, which parts we can consolidate."

Cuomo hasn't shared specifics on his budget proposal, which will be unveiled Tuesday, except to say it will be "painful." The governor is reportedly mulling a plan that includes up to 15,000 layoffs, cuts to Medicaid programs and decreases in SUNY and CUNY funding.

"We're just kind of at that point where stimulus funding has run out and the economy has not rebounded to the point where revenues are significantly increased," said Russell. "It's going to be a very difficult budget - and it's going to have effects here locally."

The north country is quite reliant on state government for good jobs, according to Alan Beidieck, this region's labor economist. He told North Country Public Radio recently that more than 12,000 people hold state jobs in the seven north country counties he monitors - and that those jobs pay, on average, $20,000 more annually than private sector employment.

This statistic is most apparent in places like the Ogdensburg Correctional Facility, a 490-bed state prison in Russell's district. Last year, Russell and other advocates convinced the Legislature to reverse Gov. David Paterson's proposal to close the facility.

With inmate populations falling steadily for the past decade, the Department of Correctional Services said closing Ogdensburg this April would have saved $24 million in annual operating costs and $12.4 million in capital costs.

Linda Foglia, a DOCS spokeswoman, said today that the state's total inmate population fell by 1,000 over the past year. For now, Ogdensburg keeps on operating - with 279 employed there as of Jan. 13. The inmate population, as of today, was 350.

Foglia said she does not know what Cuomo will propose regarding prisons in his budget. The governor was similarly mum when asked directly about it during a stop this month in Watertown.

Russell said if DOCS is looking to shed staff, it is better served thinning its ranks in Albany.

"When the governor talks about restructuring the agencies, I suspect there's going to be a larger impact around the capital because that's where a lot of this buildup has occurred," she said. "One area I've spoken about in the past is the Department of Corrections, who all of a sudden filling a building in a matter of a couple of years with administrative staff."

Foglia disputes that account, saying the 693 employed in DOCS central office in Albany is 18 percent less than what it was three years ago.

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Sunday, April 20, 2014
, Watertown, NY

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