Senate GOP seek to strip Cuomo’s expanded power

Sen. Minority Leader Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, speaking during a press conference in the state Capitol in Albany on Tuesday to announce the Senate GOP's agenda for the 2021-22 legislative session with a plan to file a hostile amendment each day of session to try to thwart Gov. Andrew Cuomo's expanded powers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Contributed photo

ALBANY — Senate Republicans will introduce a resolution every day starting next week to curb Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s expanded authority granted last March because of the coronavirus pandemic, lawmakers said, before detailing their priorities for the 2021-22 legislative session.

Democrats have squashed multiple attempts by Republicans in both legislative chambers since late last spring to strip the governor of his broadened spending and decision-making powers.

Senate Republicans will file a hostile amendment each day of session to end the governor’s emergency command, said Minority Leader Sen. Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda.

“We will reintroduce that resolution every day until it’s done,” Ortt said. “We will reintroduce that resolution every day until it’s done, whether it’s March 31 [the budget deadline], or hopefully sooner. There are colleagues on the other side that express concern about the governor’s one-man show.”

The minority conference will first introduce the amendment on one of two session days next week. The Legislature is scheduled to convene Monday and Tuesday.

The Legislature approved expanding Cuomo’s authority to not require lawmakers’ approval for spending or other necessary decisions in a March 7 executive order that declared an indefinite state of emergency as New York’s coronavirus cases took off. New York reported its first confirmed COVID-19 case March 1, 2020.

Ortt spoke about the minority’s plan Friday at the North Tonawanda Gateway Park Pavilion. Nearly 20 Republican senators, including Ortt, first detailed their agenda in the state Capitol on Tuesday before Wednesday’s first day of session.

Democrats easily halt Republican efforts to change the order, with control of the Assembly, Senate and Executive Chambers.

Reversing the governor’s authority will reassert the Legislature’s constitutional authority as an equal branch of government, Senate and Assembly Republicans said.

The Assembly minority introduced an hostile amendment to curb Cuomo’s authority during a special session Dec. 28.

“Not surprisingly, Assembly Democrats rejected it,” Assembly Leader Will Barclay, R-Pulaski, said in a statement Friday. “It becomes more clear every day that New York must return to a representative Democracy and end the governor’s unilateral rule, but majority conferences have resisted this at every turn. We will continue to press this issue.”

Barclay did not say how often Assembly Republicans intend to attempt to thwart the governor’s emergency powers this session.

Cuomo and Executive Chamber representatives have said for months that the Legislature has the power to reverse the governor’s expanded authority at any time.

“This is a useless political stunt, but pandering politicians are going to pander, I suppose,” Rich Azzopardi, Cuomo’s senior adviser, said in a statement Friday. “Already baked into the emergency powers is the ability for the Legislature to reverse any pandemic-related executive order via a resolution that doesn’t require the governor’s signature.”

Cuomo’s additional command is necessary as the pandemic continues, Azzopardi said.

“Without these powers, virtually every action taken would have required a vote,” he said. “It would have been unwieldy and borderline impossible and that is why the Legislature in their wisdom voted to grant them in the first place.”

Representatives from the Senate Democratic Majority did not return requests for comment Friday.

Senate Republicans priorities for the 2021-22 legislative session, dubbed the RESET NY agenda, include proposals to restart local economies by safely reopening small businesses amid the COVID-19 pandemic, helping schools and colleges to remain open for in-person learning and infrastructure investments to bolster the state’s economic competition.

State operations must also be examined, Senate GOP members argued, with conference intentions to end the state’s unaffordable tax rates lawmakers say is exacerbated by New York’s habits of overspending.

“Overcoming the unprecedented, ongoing health, economic and community challenges posed by COVID-19 requires big, bold solutions,” said Sen. Daphne Jordan, R-Halfmoon, whose district includes Columbia County. “We need to rethink the state’s approach to solving problems, successfully restart our economy and renew our commitment to residents and each other. Partisan politics and a bureaucratic Albany trapped in the old ways of doing things won’t work. What will work is advancing smarter public policies that recognize the breadth and depth of our challenges and the necessity of fresh thinking that goes beyond party labels. It’s time for our state to hit the ‘reset’ button.

“Our RESET NY plan reflects our continued efforts to bring New Yorkers together and improve the quality of life across our state. We are ready to answer the challenges of COVID and deliver the positive change New Yorkers expect and rightfully deserve.”

The state has a $15 billion revenue shortfall, which is expected to mount to more than $31 billion this year. Leading state Democrats, including Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, have warned New Yorkers to anticipate significant tax hikes to help close the deficit depending on additional federal COVID-19 relief.

Cuomo and budget officials have withheld further fiscal details for months as officials expect the newly elected Congress, with Democrats controlling both houses, to provide direct funding to U.S. states and local governments under President-elect Joe Biden.

Biden will be inaugurated Jan. 20.

Senate GOP will also fight for public safety measures to bolster protections for police and law-enforcement officers. Democrats immediately killed a 10-bill pro-police Protect Those Who Protect Us legislative package in July in the aftermath of weeks of ongoing Black Lives Matter protests and demonstrations, where hundreds exploited the situation to commit crimes and to counter a dramatic surge in cities nationwide this year.

Proposed legislation in the RESET NY agenda include Senate bill Nos. S.9032 to put the Nourish NY initiative, to send surplus state agricultural products to food banks, Jordan’s S.9050 to require a weeklong sales tax holiday for restaurant’s and S.1596 to eliminate taxes on manufacturers, among many others.

Assembly Republicans’ top priorities for the upcoming session mirror the Senate GOP in many ways. The Assembly minority conference will work to protect taxpayers from additional hikes, improving the economy with a focus to help small businesses, cutting taxes, fees and regulations that stifle business growth, protecting communities from disastrous pro-criminal policies and reining in Albany’s spending habits amid the budget crisis, Barclay said.

“Good policies that help New Yorkers aren’t defined by or limited to political parties,” the Assembly leader said. “I have a healthy respect and good working relationship with Speaker Heastie, and I believe that’s true for the members of both conferences. We are going to disagree on many issues, but I know we will share common ground on other measures to benefit New York state.”

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