Gideon John Tucker was an American lawyer, newspaper editor and politician. In 1866, as Surrogate of New York County, he wrote in a decision of a will case: “No man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in session.”
The recently elected 150 members of the NYS Assembly and 63 members of the NYS Senate are convening in Albany under unusual circumstances, Governor Hochul; the virtually unknown Lieutenant Governor replaced Governor Cuomo who resigned in August to avoid impeachment and Hochul is a candidate in a hotly contested gubernatorial June primary and the winner will face a Republican in a hotly contested November election.
Hochul is challenged by from the “right” by Congressman Thomas Suozzi and to the “left” by New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, and perhaps former Mayor Bill de Blasio. On the Republican side Suffolk County Congressman Lee Zeldin is the probable candidate in November. There is no Ranked Choice Voting in state elections, most votes wins, no runoffs.
While Hochul leads the state as governor she also campaigns for the June Democratic primary. In a way her current tenure will be “approved” or “rejected” by the primary voters in June.
State legislatures vary greatly in size, duties and remuneration.
The Texas legislature meets for five months every other year; the governor can call the legislature back into session at any time.
The New Hampshire Assembly has 400 members who are paid $200 per term (plus travel expenses)
The New Mexico legislature is not paid.
See comparison of state legislative salaries here https://ballotpedia.org/Comparison_of_state_legislative_salaries
The New York State legislature is in session for only 60 days, this year from January 5th to June 2nd (See calendar here) and legislative salary is $110,000 a year, the second highest after California.
The legislature in New York State has slowly moved from a part time to a full time body, although the length of the session is still January to June.
In 1998 Governor Pataki called the legislature into session in December, two items on the agenda, a bill creating charter schools and substantial salary increase: guess how the legislators voted? Legislators didn’t receive another raise for twenty years, a few year ago from $79,500 to the current $110,000.
Thousands upon thousands of bills are introduced (See process here), only about 5% of the bills introduced become law. A decade ago I co-wrote a bill that was introduced by a local legislator, it languished in committee.
On January 5th the Governor gave her State of the State message to a remote joint meeting of the legislature in the Assembly chamber. Cuomo moved the message from the Assembly chamber to the Convention Center with a few thousand in the audience, more like a political rally. The speech was followed by receptions by elected leaders, Shelly Silver, the former Speaker served lox and bagels. As I have mentioned before I attended the Board of Regents meetings for years as well as the State of the State speech, an opportunity to chit-chat with local legislators.
Hochul, in her address, called for a constitutional amendment to limit statewide electeds terms: term limits (Read Article XIX of the NYS Constitution; a complex process); as well as other major infrastructure projects and lowering of taxes, always popular in an election year.
On January 18th the Governor will release the Executive Budget, a few weeks later the Assembly and the Senate will release “one-house” budgets and by April 1 the state will adopt a budget. The budget process has been dominated by Cuomo; the current legislature will play a larger role.
Scuffles Over the State Budget
For the next two years the state will be awash in dollars: federal dollars and unexpectedly high tax revenues, with serious deficits after the federal dollars end. Progressive members of the legislature have long lists of uses for the increased dollars while more conservative members push for using the excess short term dollars to plan for future deficits. The Citizens Budget Commission urges the state to be prudent,
The fiscal outlook is vastly better than last year, and the State’s multi-year budget balance is unprecedented. Tax receipts now exceed pre-pandemic projections, setting the stage for budget negotiations that likely will center on how to allocate plentiful resources without necessarily considering long-term implications. This short-sightedness could be harmful. Future budgets are balanced on the back of federal aid that will end, and the State is still combating the COVID-19 pandemic and a protracted and rocky economic recovery.
See detailed CBC recommendations here.
After the April 1 budget approval there are only 23 days left in the session, the session ends June 2nd, legislators have to campaign, the primaries are the last Tuesday in June.
Reforming Bail Reform
The cash bail reform (2019) has both strong support and sharp criticism, Hochul did not comment in her message. Bail reform supporters,
“The reform is actually working as intended, and it’s keeping thousands of people out of jail, with their families, all while remaining in their homes and maintaining their jobs, and if we look to the existing data, bail reform is saving those lives and keeping families together without jeopardizing our collective public safety,” said Rodney Holcombe, the NYS Director for Criminal Justice Reform for advocacy group Fwd.us.
On the other side of the issue,
… members of law enforcement support potential changes and would like to see the system revert to the way it was, with judges allowed to use their discretion.
“We end up going out on almost a daily basis arresting people on a warrant, and rearresting on a warrant and rearresting on a warrant,” said Broome County Sheriff David Harder. “Leave it up to the courts to decide by looking at that person’s history, if they come back to court like they’re supposed to when they’ve been arrested in the past, how many times they’ve been arrested.”
Governor Hochul was “open” to discussing bail reforms; democrats in contested districts worry about a “red’ wave with crime at the top of the Republican campaigns.
The Renewal/Amending of Mayoral Control
The New York City mayoral control law (Read here) sunsets at the end of June, 2022, unless the law is extended governance will revert to the previous structure: one member of the Board of Education appointed by each borough president and two by the mayor. The previous structure has no support but is the default action. The current structure: a fifteen member board, the borough presidents each appoints a member, one member from community education councils and nine by the mayor and serve at the pleasure of the mayor.
* Should the board members be appointed to fixed terms? (Cannot be removed during a term)
* Should the City Council appoint a member?
* Should the mayor no longer have a majority of seats?
* Should the law create an elected school board?
* Should the law be extended for one year and create a task force to examine mayoral control with public hearings and a recommendation by November 30th 2022?
While Mayor Adams supports making the mayoral law permanent; there is no consensus over a successor law.
Governor Cuomo supported charter schools, not because he had any philosophical support, because it was a thorn in the side of teacher unions and charter school advocates richly supported his campaigns.
Governor Hochul, from Buffalo, to the best of my knowledge has not commented on charter schools. Buffalo is swamped with charter schools and the local Buffalo legislators are not supporters of charter schools.
Charter school supporters want the legislature to raise the New York City cap; anti-charter school folks want greater transparency and scrutiny over charter schools. Whether charter school dollars build a new post-Cuomo legislative advocacy or the progressive legislators prevail in evening the charter/public playing field will be played out over the waning days of the session, the “big ugly,” the tying together of bills that have nothing in common, the ultimate trading, sometimes called “logrolling,”
… in their own shadowy way, big uglies have transformed New York State and … in the final days of the legislative session.
Big uglies have been used to pass tax increases, expand gambling and casinos, provide tax breaks for real estate interests, provide pension sweeteners to politically powerful public worker unions, approve same-sex marriage, create charter schools in exchange for legislative pay raises, extend mayoral control of New York City schools, and create a 2 percent cap on local property tax levies. These and other measures became law in big uglies, after it was clear the contentious issues couldn’t pass as stand-alone bills.
After assuming office in August Hochul began cleaning house, getting rid the Cuomo team. One problem, Jim Malatras, the chancellor of SUNY, a close, very close ally of Cuomo’s did not work for Hochul, he was appointed by the SUNY Board, and vehemently argued he wasn’t resigning; Tisch, the head of the SUNY Board skillfully navigated Malatras’ exit.
In her State of the State message and numerous other comments Governor Hochul used the word “collaboration;” working with the legislature and mayors; in other words the velvet glove rather than the cudgel. The cudgel has not disappeared, the governor controls the size of the budget and the power to include non-budgetary items in the budget (See Pataki v Silver lawsuits here)
There are five powerful women directing policy: Kathy Hochul, Leticia James, Betty Rosa, Merryl Tish, and Andrea Stewart Cousins: with strong really smart women leading the state a former era of mud wrestling may evolve into an era of intelligent policy-making.