Republican state senators recently demonstrated they have no intention of throwing in the towel as the opposition party in Albany.
On Jan. 5, some of them unveiled their plans for this session of the state Legislature. They’re going to use their collective voice to promote the issues important to their constituents. This would serve as a check against the sweeping authority ceded to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo last year in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“Senate Republicans [introduced] a resolution every day [last 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 [filed] a hostile amendment each day of session to end the governor’s emergency command,” said Minority Leader Sen. Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda. “… Several Democrats in both houses have told Republicans they would support rescinding Cuomo’s additional authorities,” according to a Columbia-Greene Media story published Jan. 9. “The Legislature approved expanding Cuomo’s power 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. 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 [Jan. 5] before [Jan. 6’s] first day of session. Democrats easily halted 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 vast powers surrendered by lawmakers gave Cuomo the ability to single-handedly rule the state the way he prefers. He decided what industries could operate (in the specific manner he dictated, of course) and which businesses could survive through executive orders.
A representative of the Cuomo administration isn’t buying what Senate Republicans are selling.
“This is a useless political stunt, but pandering politicians are going to pander, I suppose. … 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,” Rich Azzopardi, Cuomo’s senior adviser, said in a news release issued Jan. 8. “Without these powers, virtually every action taken would have required a vote. … It would have been unwieldy and borderline impossible, and that is why the Legislature in [its] wisdom voted to grant them in the first place.”
It’s true that lawmakers could overrule any choice Cuomo made. And it’s also true that in at least some cases, the process of requiring legislative approval would prove time consuming and, thus, life threatening.
But the Democrats who dominate Albany aren’t likely to see the need to question Cuomo’s actions. They gave him carte blanche over the 2020-21 budget to adjust it as he wanted.
This is wrong. Some of these powers need to revert back to the state Legislature so policies can be debated by those in both the Assembly and Senate.
The pandemic is far from over and the governor still needs emergency powers over certain decisions. But it’s time for the Legislature to reassert itself, and the Republicans are right to proclaim this.