Aubertine Pitches Plan for Cutting State Budget

Submitted article

With financial markets continuing to face significant challenges, New York State is in a severe fiscal crisis that will require bold solutions and significant cuts in state spending. Today, state Sen. Darrel Aubertine put forth several bold initiatives for the state to consider that would cut state spending through consolidation and other measures to reduce the costs of state government.

“I have said for some time that we need to get ahead of this financial crisis and that all options should be on the table,” Sen. Aubertine said. “The challenge is to cut state spending and state debt without impacting the very programs that help regular people deal with the fiscal crisis. The answer, I believe, is for state government, like the rest of us, to do more with less, and consolidate to eliminate redundancy.”

In August, Sen. Aubertine voted for more than $1 billion in cuts to the state budget, and has since called on the Legislature to return to Albany to address this crisis head on. Sen. Aubertine wants the state to consider several measures that will reduce state spending and the size of state government, saving millions this year, and hundreds of millions in the years ahead.

“Today, I am calling on the Governor and state Legislature to explore the consolidation of state agencies and
authorities with overlapping responsibilities, as well as consider a hiring freeze at state authorities and other steps to improve efficiency,” Sen. Aubertine said. “There is no reason why the state taxpayers should have to foot the bill for multiple agencies and authorities that have similar missions, overlapping responsibility and the same layers of bureaucracy.”

Sen. Aubertine today proposed the state consider consolidating several state agencies and authorities from multiple independent bureaucracies into more efficient singular entities.  Currently, there are more than 640 authorities in the State, including 169 major State public authorities and affiliated subsidiary corporations. Already, 43 authorities are affiliated with State agencies.

Authorities also have the ability to create more state debt, and can do so without the approval State government.  Authorities are currently responsible for more than 90 percent of State debt. The largest 17 authorities have issued $33.8 billion in State supported debt.

First, Sen. Aubertine proposes we explore folding the New York State Bridge Authority and the New York State
Thruway Authority, into the Department of Transportation (DOT). All three of these authorities and agencies focus on the transportation infrastructure, and each has sizable administrative costs that could be drastically reduced under a single agency. Currently, the DOT has a $785 million operating budget, while the Thruway Authority’s budget is $356 million and the Bridge Authority’s budget is $26.4 million. Combing these could save approximately $52 million this fiscal year and $104 million next year.

“There is no good reason why we have three separate entities all dealing with transportation needs,” Sen. Aubertine said. “By combining all three we will be able to streamline state government and reduce the debt load on taxpayers. This makes sense for the taxpayers of New York.”

Second, Sen. Aubertine proposes the state explore the consolidation of the New York State Energy, Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and the New York Power Authority (NYPA), into a single New York State
Energy Authority. These two authorities currently focus on energy conservation, research into energy alternatives, electricity service, and electrical generation, respectively. The New York Power Authority’s total operating budget is $2.7 billion, while NYSERDA spends $452 million. The combination into a single energy authority would preserve the jobs at both authorities, but unify their missions and eliminate wasteful redundancy in administration and

“Why do we have two separate state authorities dealing with different sides of our energy challenges?” Sen. Aubertine asked. “We need a singular energy policy, and it starts with a singular entity focused on energy policy and programs.”

Finally, Sen. Aubertine proposes moving the New York State Canal Corporation out from under the Thruway
Authority and placing it under the New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. This change makes sense, not just for the financial savings in administrative costs, but because the canal system’s mission as a recreation and economic development tool has surpassed its mission as a part if the transportation infrastructure.

“The Canal Corporation has long been ignored and underutilized under the Thruway Authority,” Sen. Aubertine said.

“It makes better sense to fold the canals into our park system, and to focus on efforts to enhance the canals as part of our state recreation assets.”

It is estimated that the consolidation of these agencies and authorities into entities with a singular focus could save the taxpayers hundreds of millions per year, and will actually improve the ability of these authorities and agencies to address challenges in their respective fields in a more collaborative fashion. The consolidation would also reduce state debt load and reign in the ability of authorities to spend taxpayer dollars without legislative oversight.

“These consolidations would preserve jobs and enhance the mission of state government in these matters, while also saving taxpayer money,” Sen. Aubertine said. “While some may see these as too bold, that is exactly the kind of changes we have got to make to for New York State’s long term future.”

The only logical reason for the number of authorities in the state is because each authority has the distinct power to bond and create state debt outside the budget process.

“When a household has too much spending and too much debt, the first thing you do is cut up credit cards and consolidate your debt,” said Sen. Aubertine. “That is exactly what I want the state to explore as we deal with the looming fiscal crisis.”

In addition to these consolidation measures, Senator Aubertine also proposes a hiring freeze at all state authorities starting immediately. Currently, state public authorities lose roughly 6 percent of their staff to attrition annually. If these positions remain unfilled, it could save state taxpayers $30 million in the current year and $130 million in the next fiscal year.  These savings would come without a single layoff. The Senator would also like the state to consider a retirement incentive to current employees that would reduce overhead in state government, which it is estimated would save state government. This retirement incentive would save the state $50 million this year, and $200 million next fiscal year.

“When private business faces fiscal crisis, they streamline operations and offer current employees retirement
incentives,” said Aubertine. “That is exactly what state Government should do as we face this crisis.”