With large short-term problems, will modest long-term ideas be heard?

While leaders of the General Assembly struggle–so far unsuccessfully-to close a half-billion dollar gap in this year’s state budget, a small group composed mainly of legislators has come up with a series of more modest proposals that could mean long-term savings for the state.

Now the question is whether the legislature will take the time to act on them while facing nine- and ten-digit deficits over the next several years.

“We’ll see if anything happens,” said Sen. Gayle S. Slossberg, admitting that several of the proposals have failed in previous years.

Holding a list of 51 budget-saving proposals crafted by the Commission on Enhancing Agency Outcomes, Slossberg said, “Many of these are ready to go now. Let’s pass some of these as soon as possible.

Slossberg, Gayle, 3-29-10

Sen. Gayle Slossberg: $100,000 here and there (Jacqueline Rabe)

“A hundred thousand dollars there and another $100,000 here adds up quickly,” said Slossberg, who is co-chairman of both the legislature’s Government Administration and Elections Committee and the cost-cutting commission.

Several of the commission’s proposals, from reducing paperwork to consolidating administrative offices at state agencies, already have been approved by the GAE committee for action by the full General Assembly.

One bill would require state agencies and the legislature to reduce the printing and binding of documents and reports by almost 1 percent. The comptroller’s office reports almost $7 million was spent last fiscal year on printing.

Printing state paychecks costs the state an additional $100,000 last fiscal year. A separate proposal would require all state employees have direct deposit. As of March 17, 33 percent of state employees did not use direct deposit.

The commission, created by the legislature last year, is charged with coming up with at least $53 million in savings — $3 million this year and $50 million in the 2011 fiscal year. Just one of the proposals on the table for this year-a bill to allow the state to piggyback on low-cost purchasing agreements reached with vendors by other states-could achieve the $3 million in immediate cost-cutting, Slossberg said.

And the efficiencies proposed by the commission would continue to save the state money in the future, she said.

Sen. Michael A. McLachlan, the Senate ranking Republican on the GAE committee from Danbury, echoed Slosberg’s call for quick action.

“Let’s do it now,” he said. “What are we waiting for?”

But Slossberg said she expects there will be questions the commission can’t answer right now that will bog down action on some of the proposals.

“We could use 20 people working on research if we want to get it done right away,” she said. The commission has two full-time staffers.

One idea that will require more study is a proposal to consolidate the administrative functions of a number of agencies that provide human services-the departments of Public Health, Social Services, Mental Health and Addictive Services, Child and Family Services

“On the surface it makes sense and it should save us money. But until we know for sure, we are not going to implement that until we have all of our facts,” she said. “We don’t reorganize and consolidate lightly.”

Rep. James F. Spallone, D-Essex, the other co-chair of both the GAE co-chairman and the commission, said the proposal seems logical.

“People need to have confidence their needs are being handled in a timely manner. So, that might mean making the process all in one place. It’s not that exciting but it can make operations run much more smoothly,” he said.

For the majority of the remaining agencies, Slossberg hopes the legislature will act this year to consolidate their administrative functions – including information technology, human resources and communications functions – into the already existing Department of Administrative Services.

“Just moving these services over to the current DAS will help save us money,” she said.  “We won’t always have to refill those positions when people retire or leave their job,” she said.

Slossberg said with the current $1.3 billion deficit though June 2011 and even larger deficits in the years after, now is the best time to act.

“We are getting together everything that makes sense now, putting them together in one supersaver bill and hopefully it will get done,” she said.