ALBANY - A New York State Assembly committee will convene next week to weigh the impacts of Gov. David A. Paterson's proposed staffing cuts at the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
In October, Paterson said he would seek to layoff nearly 2,000 state workers before year's end in order to cut into a budget deficit estimated at nearly $10 billion.
The lame duck Democratic governor, who will be replaced by Andrew Cuomo in January, pledged his cuts would be dispersed evenly among all state agencies.
But, an internal DEC memo, leaked to the press shortly before former DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis was fired, showed Paterson intends to cut about 200 jobs from the DEC - representing approximately 10 percent of statewide setbacks.
Although the memo's author was never revealed, Grannis took the blame and was fired by one of Paterson's top aides.
Now, lawmakers and environmentalists are scrambling to fight back, noting Paterson's proposed cuts could devastate an agency already coping with significant budget reductions.
Assemblywoman Teresa R. Sayward, R-Willsboro, is the ranking Republican on the Assembly's Environmental Conservation Committee. She said next week's hearing will explore the current economic state of the DEC and look ahead to next year.
Sayward said Paterson will get a first-hand look at how his proposed cuts are going to affect the agency.
"I think it's going to be pretty focused on the impacts of the 2010-2011 state budgets, in terms of staffing levels and programs," she said. "The whole purpose is to review the implementation of the state budget and how that's going to affect programs. How are we going to take care of the land with all of these staffing cuts? I'm sure the staff will be present to give their presentations on how they think they can deal with everything they have to deal with in terms of everything that's been proposed."
Sayward was highly critical of Paterson's decision to fire Grannis, especially since he leaves office in less than two months.
She noted acting Commissioner Peter Iwanowicz will be in attendance at next week's hearing - and she's questioning his role in the proceedings.
"Certainly, my guess is he's going to say what the governor wants him to say - which is that these cuts need to be made because of the budget," Sayward said.
She added next week's hearings could end up being little more than political theater.
"Quite frankly, to be really candid, I can't see the purpose of this," Sayward said. "Everything changes. Nothing that this current seated governor is going to accomplish is set-in-stone. Hopefully, he'll take the testimony and look at what people are saying, which could be helpful. But ultimately, the game changes when Cuomo is sworn in."
Sayward expects to sit down with North Country officials to determine the impact of Paterson's cuts on local government ahead of next week's hearings.
She said it's imperative for Paterson to understand the consequences his actions could have on Adirondack communities.