Watchdog groups look to strip Cuomo of emergency coronavirus powers
ALBANY — Time to close the curtain.
Good government watchdogs want state lawmakers to scale back Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s emergency coronavirus powers that have allowed him to sidestep, rewrite and create new laws throughout the pandemic.
“We write to urge you to review and place new limits on the emergency powers granted to the governor earlier this year,” wrote New York’s top watchdogs Common Cause NY, the League of Women Voters, Reinvent Albany and the New York Public Interest Research Group in a joint letter Wednesday to Cuomo and legislative leaders state Sen. Majority Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins (D-Westchester), Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-The Bronx, Sen. Minority Leader Rob Ortt (R-Lockport) and Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay (R-Syracuse).
“As the state cautiously begins the process of reopening and with the benefit of experience, we now believe a review and changes in the delegation of authority are necessary. The American form of representative democracy primarily hinges on the balance of power between co-equal branches of government,” they wrote.
The Legislature passed the emergency law in early March, awarding Cuomo a grand expansion of authority to suspend any “statute, local law, ordinance, order, rule or regulation or part thereof” related to preserving public health and “necessary to aid the disaster effort.”
The move gave Cuomo the ability to issue multiple 30-day executive orders — including the statewide shutdown of non-essential businesses and shortening of the school year. That power expires in April 2021.
But now that New Yorkers are on the other side of the mountain, with a majority of regions entering final reopening phases, reformers want lawmakers back in Albany.
“As the state moves out of the most severe quarantine restrictions, we believe it is time to review and revise the delegation of power. Accordingly, we urge that the powers of the Governor be limited to a specific period of time and only extended as the result of legislative approval by the Legislature. It must not be “automatic,”” wrote the watchdogs, as the Legislature has the power to remove Cuomo’s authority if they pass a joint resolution.
They are also calling on pols to finish the remainder of the legislative session cut short by the pandemic, criticizing them for meeting only to vote on “limited” agendas via remote technology like Zoom — for things like COVID-19 emergency bills or police reform legislation.
Lawmakers also have the power to approve or deny fiscal cuts to the $177 billion state budget approved in April.
Neither Stewart-Cousins nor Heastie responded for comment, but both Republican leaders applauded the suggestions.
“Both Senate and Assembly Republicans placed amendments on the floor to end the Governor’s unchecked and unbridled powers, and Democrats who control both houses voted no. It is time for Democrats to stop hiding behind the Governor and to follow our lead to end his control,” Orrt said in a statement.
“It’s refreshing that good-government groups have finally realized Gov. Cuomo’s unilateral rule is completely opposite of how a ‘good government’ is supposed to function. Opportunities to rein in the governor’s power have been there. What is lacking is a willingness by the majorities to take that necessary – and overdue – step,” added Barclay.
One Democratic Assemblymember spoke to The Post on condition of anonymity, and agreed that it’s a good idea to neuter Cuomo’s powers.
“Once we enter Phase 4, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t — at a minimum — go back and remove his power,” the pol remarked of Cuomo.
“Theres no reason for him to be running the show by himself anymore.”
Cuomo’s office was not as enthusiastic.
“The legislature passed dozens of bills since the emergency powers went into effect and the Governor signed many of them into law, but without the executive authority granted by the Legislature, we could not have successfully managed the pandemic and helped New Yorkers crush the curve of this deadly virus,” Cuomo spokesman Jason Conwall said in a statement.
“While New York’s infection rate is now one of the lowest in the country, make no mistake: this pandemic is not over and we must stay vigilant as many other states experience outbreaks.”
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