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State cuts too deeply and misses savings opportunities

In finalizing a budget that addresses a $10 billion shortfall, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo faces an unenviable task, and a grave responsibility -- to balance needed cuts with the well-being of the state's nearly 19 million citizens. Cuts must be made; however, cutting early intervention and preventive services for those at greatest risk while failing to fully pursue alternative cost-reduction strategies puts citizens in jeopardy.

Many of the governor's budget proposals are worthy of support. Consolidating a number of state agencies, reforming the juvenile justice system and instituting mechanisms that replace guaranteed contracts with pay for performance represent a good start, but fall short of mining the cost-saving possibilities that exist across state government.

As proposed, a disproportionate amount of the pain will be borne by those who can least afford further strain. Proven preventive services that have a positive impact on public health, at-risk youth and the health and independence of our senior citizens can be delivered today for a fraction of the cost of their long-range alternatives -- increased costs for Medicaid, juvenile and adult justice and long-term care.

The nonprofit sector is an essential contributor to the vitality of our community. Agencies are, after all, businesses, with all the infrastructure needs and purchasing power of their for-profit counterparts. Not only do services provided enhance quality of life for people of all ages, not-for-profits purchase goods and services from local vendors and employ thousands of skilled and talented local workers in jobs spanning from maintenance to management.

As leaders in the nonprofit sector, we have faced our own budget crises and made difficult decisions. We know that we must seek efficiencies to remain competitive. By actively pursuing mergers and other affiliations that generate meaningful savings, implementing results-based accountability techniques to ensure return on investment and engaging in Six Sigma processes and effective program management, dozens of agencies are enhancing their own health as well as the vitality of the sector and the community at large. Implementing initiatives that increase efficiency can be challenging, even unpopular, but doing so improves service delivery for our community and is the responsible choice in this environment.

New York State's financial crisis will not be resolved quickly or easily, and no budget will be without some measure of pain. By preserving early intervention and preventive services, focusing on strategies that eliminate waste and inefficiency, pursuing more aggressive consolidation efforts, eliminating unnecessary and low-performing programs and services, rewarding operating efficiencies and paying for performance, we would have a budget that does not shift the lion's share of the burden to our most vulnerable citizens.

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Michael Weiner is president of the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County. William Hawkes is executive director of Neighborhood Legal Services.

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