Prisons slated for closure spared by budget agreement

Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, R-Brunswick, said Monday that the state budget will include fun

Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, R-Brunswick, said Monday that the state budget will include funding to keep open Camp McGregor in Saratoga County, along with three other prisons that had been targeted for closure by former Gov. Eliot Spitzer.

Bruno made the announcement in a short speech before several hundred corrections officers who were holding a rally in the cold rain on the steps of the Capitol. Officers chanted “Bruno, Bruno,” as the majority leader approached.

Bruno said protecting the prisons had been a priority of the Senate Republican Conference, and that crime has gone down in the state because criminals have been imprisoned. Afterwards, he said there was agreement from the governor and Assembly to keep the prisons open.

Assembly Majority Leader Ron Canestrari, D-Cohoes, confirmed that the four prisons would stay open. Jeffrey Gordon, spokesmen for Gov. David Paterson’s Budget Division, declined to comment.

The New York State Correction Officers and Police Benevolent Association put out a statement on its Web site saying “the prison closure proposals made by the former governor have been defeated.”

Bruno put out a news release with Sen. Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna, who was quoted as saying: “This continuation of a robust minimum-security program, with job training and experience, reflects our efforts to return non-violent offenders back into society as productive citizens.”

Camp McGregor is a minimum-security facility located next to the medium-security Mount McGregor prison. In addition to Camp McGregor, Spitzer’s executive budget had recommended closing Camp Pharsalia in Chenango County, Camp Gabriels in Franklin County, and the medium-security Hudson Correctional Facility in Columbia County.

This proposal would have affected more than 500 employees, including 66 at Camp McGregor, who would have been forced to move to another prison if they wanted to keep their jobs. The administration said a reduction in crime means the prisons are not needed, but Republicans said the state still has to “double-bunk” inmates, which they call a potentially dangerous practice.

It wasn’t just Republicans in favor of keeping the prisons open. U.S. Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-Greenport, took the same line in a March 18 letter to Gov. David Paterson. She noted that three of the prisons are in her district, and cited the negative economic impact of closing them.

“The agreed-upon state budget includes $10.7 million” to keep the prisons open, the Bruno-Farley statement said.

Clifford Seguin of Wilton works as a cook at Camp McGregor. His job would have been eliminated under the Spitzer plan, meaning he would have had to move out of the county to work at another prison.

Seguin is also the founder of Operation Adopt A Soldier, which sends care packages to soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he had said he would have had to close it if Camp McGregor were closed.

Seguin said: “On behalf of all the displaced employees and the soldiers fighting for our freedom, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the letters and cards that went to Albany. Our voices were heard and it does make a difference.”

On another issue, it was unclear whether the Schenectady Free Health Clinic would get a $350,000 line item sought by Farley. The Health Conference Committee did not approve that money. In fact, the committee did not meet at all Monday, although it was scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Its members did gather and discuss matters among themselves, out of public earshot, without bringing the meeting to order. At 12:30 p.m., co-chairman Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, D-Manhattan, said the committee would be meeting at a later time. However, no later meeting was scheduled, and a health bill was scheduled to go to the Assembly floor later Monday.

Farley said he still hoped to get the $350,000 for the clinic included as a line item in the budget. Sen. Kemp Hannon, R-Garden City, co-chairman of the conference committee, said there was a good chance of that happening.

Saratoga Springs Mayor Scott Johnson, Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco, R-Schenectady, and Bruno spokesman Scott Reif said they were confident a Spitzer proposal to phase out local government revenues from video lottery terminals would be rejected in the final budget.

Canestrari said Monday evening, “I think it’s dead,” but that the issue had not yet been resolved.

Sen. Neil Breslin, D-Delmar, and Assemblyman Bob Reilly, D-Colonie, said they did not expect the budget to include significant funding for the proposed Albany Convention Center, but that planning for the project would still be able to go ahead.

As is almost always the case in Albany, despite last year’s so-called budget reform, all the meaningful negotiations and decisions were taking place in secret.

The New York State Association of Counties issued a statement saying the tentative budget agreement will increase the counties’ share of welfare costs to 51 percent, “so counties will now own more of the state’s welfare program than the state. Changing this funding formula is a short-sighted step in the wrong direction, particularly in light of the clear and present property tax crisis facing our state.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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