ALBANY — A top Democrat weighed limiting Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s broadened emergency powers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The governor sent letters to select municipalities Wednesday threatening to withhold state funding unless local officials effectively enforce state COVID-19 mandates intending to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
“If they don’t, we will withhold funding,” Cuomo said of enforcement in school districts. “I don’t like to do that. Budgets are tough all across the board. I don’t know how else to get them to actually do the enforcement they need to do.
“We’re withholding funding until the matter is resolved to our satisfaction,” he added. “We do not know at this time when that will be, but we are commencing holding funding from those schools.”
The decision was met with criticism by Senate Deputy Majority Leader Mike Gianaris, D-Queens.
“Is he going to label them anarchist jurisdictions, too?” Gianaris posted on Twitter minutes after the governor’s announcement Wednesday. “If this threat is implemented and desperately needed funds are withheld, the Legislature should reconvene immediately and revoke emergency powers.”
The state sent a letter to government officials in New York City, Orange and Rockland counties, the town of Ramapo and adjoining village of Spring Valley in Rockland County on Wednesday requiring them to enforce the state’s coronavirus mandates, including limiting crowds or capacity in buildings, social distancing or wearing face masks in public.
Not enforcing Cuomo’s COVID-19 executive mandates violates Section 16 of state Public Health Law, especially in “red zone” or area hot spots that have appeared over the last several weeks in Orange and Rockland counties and Brooklyn.
State funding will be withheld from localities that fail to enforce the law, Cuomo said.
“If I had to do it over again, I would have taken over enforcement on day one,” Cuomo said during a conference call with reporters. “The primary responsibility of the entire situation for local governments is enforcement. I don’t have the resources to do enforcement statewide.”
The downstate clusters and microclusters are largely attributed to religious gatherings and ceremonies recently held by scores of New Yorkers in the ultra-Orthodox or Hasidic Jewish communities.
“The enforcement from the local governments is very uneven, especially when it’s politically sensitive,” Cuomo said. “That’s what we’re running into with a lot of these ultra-Orthodox communities, who are also very politically powerful. Don’t kid yourself.”
Schools within two-and-a-half miles of a state hot spot or microcluster are ordered closed. Schools continuing to operate also risk losing state aid, and were sent a similar letter from the governor’s office Wednesday.
Check back for more details on this developing story.