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Officials grapple with Paterson's staffing, program cuts at DEC

ALBANY - A state Assembly committee will convene next week to weigh the impacts of Gov. David Paterson's proposed staffing cuts at the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

In October, Paterson said he would seek to lay off nearly 2,000 state workers before year's end in order to reduce a state budget deficit estimated at nearly $10 billion.

The lame duck Democratic governor, who will be replaced by Andrew Cuomo in January, pledged that his cuts would be dispersed evenly among all state agencies.

But an internal DEC memo, which was leaked to the press and prompted the firing of former DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis, showed that Paterson intends to cut about 200 jobs from DEC - representing about 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 that Paterson's proposed cuts could devastate an agency already coping with significant budget reductions.

Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward, the ranking Republican on the Assembly's Environmental Conservation Committee, said next week's hearing will explore the current economic state of the DEC and look ahead to next year.

Sayward added that Paterson will get a first-hand look at how his proposed cuts are going to affect the agency.

"How are we going to take care of the land with all of these staffing cuts?" she asked, predicting that DEC staffers will probably make presentations how they can deal with the proposed cuts.

Sayward was highly critical of Paterson's decision to fire Grannis.

She notes that acting Commissioner Peter Iwanowicz will be attending 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 predicted.

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