“I’m the federal government,” Governor Andrew Cuomo famously declared in 2011 throughout his first time period. The assertion isn’t as hyperbolic because it sounds. The New York State Structure and subsequent case legislation permit the governor to dictate how cash is spent, and there isn’t a lot the legislature can do about it.
Over his decade in workplace, Cuomo has consolidated this energy, cramming the annual finances filled with his priorities—schooling modifications, pay raises, a “justice agenda” to call a couple of—and forcing the legislature to vote for it or face the wrath of the general public from a authorities shutdown.
This yr that dynamic is completely different. With lower than one month till the finances is due, Cuomo is dealing with rising calls to resign due to his dealing with of nursing house deaths throughout the pandemic, and as extra ladies come ahead to explain how Cuomo sexually harassed them.
“The legislature must be as aggressive as doable,” mentioned Jonathan Westin, the chief director of New York Communities for Change. “With the governor reeling, I believe it’s a possibility to truly get executed loads of the issues that he’s been obstructing for over a decade.”
Westin’s group has been pushing for a raft of progressive priorities in Albany that Cuomo has thus far resisted, like elevating taxes on the ultra-wealthy to fund deep lease reform for tenants and undocumented New Yorkers. Proponents of the six payments included within the Make investments In Our New York Act say it might elevate as a lot as $50 billion to assist New Yorkers who’re nonetheless affected by joblessness and starvation created by the pandemic.
“For years, the governor has used his willingness to threaten legislators and his bully pulpit to strengthen his place heading into finances negotiations,” mentioned Monica Klein, a spokesperson for the Make investments In Our NY Marketing campaign. “Now that he’s preoccupied by sexual harassment scandals and nursing houses cover-ups, and hiding from the general public, he is not strolling into the negotiating room at full energy.”
Gerald Benjamin, a legislation professor at SUNY New Paltz who has studied Albany for greater than 50 years, mentioned that this yr’s finances course of recollects different “excessive budgets” of the previous, such because the 1975 fiscal disaster. However he acknowledged that Cuomo’s latest scandals made this yr distinctive.
“Once you’re wounded and on the defensive, it’s tougher to take an influence place in essential and tough coverage discussions, and that’s what the finances is about,” Benjamin mentioned.
The easiest way to train any newfound leverage the legislature has, in response to Benjamin, isn’t essentially within the finances course of itself, however in a separate invoice proposed by Bronx State Senator Alessandra Biaggi that will grant lawmakers equal energy on how taxpayer cash is spent.
“They’ve extra likelihood of doing that and politically succeeding as a result of the governor is politically weakened,” Benjamin mentioned.
Usually, the governor presents his finances in January. Each the Meeting and the Senate then provide you with their very own non-binding priorities—known as a “one home” in Albany parlance—and the governor in the end decides whether or not to maintain or toss them.
The governor additionally has a possibility to tack on amendments to the finances that replicate his priorities, from “canal revitalization” to nursing house reforms, and the legislature has little recourse however to move the entire finances or threat a shutdown.
“Now we have a voice, however we don’t actually have a say,” Biaggi advised Gothamist.
Biaggi’s laws would permit state lawmakers the ability to cut back, remove, add, or alter an merchandise on the governor’s proposed finances, and the said skill to move appropriation payments exterior of the finances—powers that many different state legislatures have.
“We’re in a very vital second the place loads of New Yorkers are being attentive to the governor’s expanded emergency powers and his unilateral energy,” Biaggi mentioned. “Now we have a singular alternative to carry to gentle the significance of the finances course of and loads of the harmful flaws within the consolidation of the governor’s powers that actually miss the legislature in essentially the most essential doc and set of decision-making that we do each single yr.”
The senator, who known as on Cuomo to resign final week, citing his “clear sample of manipulation and abuse,” mentioned she is beneath no phantasm that the governor will again down throughout finances negotiations.
“He isn’t any person who is definitely going to surrender energy. Even in moments of disaster he’s making an attempt to take extra,” Biaggi mentioned, pointing to a latest finances modification Cuomo proposed that will give him the ability to spend all the new income raised on this yr’s finances.
Even when Cuomo have been to step down or discover himself personally faraway from finances negotiations, Biaggi identified that his finances director, Robert Mujica, “might be essentially the most expert particular person on the New York State finances course of,” and would shepherd the governor’s priorities via.
Cuomo’s workplace has not but responded to a request for remark.
Whereas a rising variety of state lawmakers have known as for the governor’s resignation, absent on that checklist are the 2 legislative leaders: Meeting Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Chief Andrea Stewart-Cousins. Neither responded to our questions for this story.
Exterior of the finances and elevating taxes on the rich, Biaggi mentioned she hopes to complete her work on a slate of unfinished payments associated to sexual harassment, like closing the loophole for voluntary intoxication, empowering prosecutors to pursue rape fees in instances the place the sufferer is incapacitated because of medicine or alcohol. “I can not think about ending this yr with out doing them,” Biaggi mentioned.
Jose Saldana, the 69-year-old previously incarcerated director of Releasing Growing old Individuals In Jail, mentioned he was longing for an overhaul of the state’s damaged parole system this yr via the Honest and Well timed Parole Act, which might drive the parole board to make extra equitable choices. A latest Occasions Union evaluation discovered that white New Yorkers have been granted parole at considerably greater charges than Black and Latinos.
“The governor’s workplace is an impediment to any sort of real reform, particularly when it includes Black and Latino communities,” Saldana mentioned.
“Personally, I don’t know if he’s gonna survive this. He very nicely would possibly survive this and return to enterprise as regular,” Saldana mentioned of Cuomo.
“But when his candidacy for his subsequent election is definitely threatened, he would possibly very nicely move some actual reforms understanding that he could not get one other alternative, and let this be his legacy to the Black and brown communities that he has ignored over ten years.”