For residents of northern Washington County, one of the aspects of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s new $132.9 billion budget that bears close examination are plans for the Department of Corrections.
With so many people in Whitehall, Granville and surrounding towns employed at the correctional facilities in Comstock, local residents, as well as state Sen. Betty Little, will be keeping close tabs on potential cuts there.
The budget will affect all facets of state government and will also make crucial changes to the way local towns, villages and school districts handle their budgeting for the upcoming year.
Cuomo’s proposed budget would eliminate the estimated $10 billion budget deficit without raising taxes or borrowing.
The buzzword in the corrections budget is “right-sizing,” which appears to mean closing facilities. In the briefing book the state released with the budget, officials note that the prison population has decreased by 20 percent over the last 11 years. The state has closed five correctional facilities in the last several years, but the report maintains that the total capacity of the system is 36,400, and 10 percent of those beds are not needed.
The governor will issue an Executive Order to establish a task force to decide on prison and jail closures. The former 12-month notification of closing has been eliminated and closures will be made “as soon as practicable after the task force has made its recommendations.” Towns in which facilities are closed will receive economic assistance. At this point not recommendations have been made regarding which facilities might be targeted, but several of those that were planned for closure in the last several years were able to remain open.
“I have made some suggestions to the Department of Corrections to avoid closures,” Little said Monday. “I think one of the best things we can do is coordinate between neighboring facilities. We have to ask if it is possible to maybe combine administrative costs of two neighboring facilities.”
Great Meadow and Washington Corrections are two separate facilities across Route 22 from each other in Comstock.
Little also said there may be ways to lower costs in dealing with mentally ill inmates. Those costs went up substantially after new regulations in the last several years.
Cuomo’s budget proposes merging or consolidating 11 state entities into four agencies.
One of those moves would be to merge merging the Department of Correctional Services and the Division of Parole into the new Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. The Parole Board will remain separate, but Cuomo wants to eliminate six of the 19 Parole Board members.
The budget also calls for reducing the central management staff of the corrections system by 10 percent, a cut of $5 million in each of the next two years.
The new budget also calls for a reduction of $1.5 billion in state aid for schools. State support for schools would drop by 7.3 percent.
The state has also set aside $250 million to be awarded to school districts that show significant improvement in test scores and another $250 million to be awarded on a competitive basis to districts that undertake long-term cost-savings programs.
Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy will be the chairman of a program to establish 10 regional Economic Development Council with a new focus on regional economic development.
Little released a statement making the following observation on the governor’s proposal.
“The kind of adjustment needed to close the deficit doesn’t come easily, but it is absolutely necessary,” she said. “State and local governments throughout the country are facing the same financial problems. There are economic factors beyond our control in this global economy.
But those things we can control, such as our regulatory structure, the inefficiency and waste in government that drives spending up and the high taxes we impose on businesses and consumers, need to change.
“This is a clarion call for government to be something it is not typically: innovative. Government is notoriously inflexible but now is the time to think creatively about ways to operate more efficiently, eliminate waste and redundancy wherever possible and ensure that state resources are used in the best way possible.”