For a decade, Andrew Cuomo was able to flex his political muscle as governor over the New York state Legislature on many occasions, amassing a large degree of power while in an inherently powerful office.
Cuomo resigned in August after that same Legislature had recently voted to scale back his broad pandemic powers and were on track to impeach and potentially remove him over multiple sexual harassment allegations and other controversies.
His successor, Gov. Kathy Hochul, opened her first State of the State address Wednesday with an apparent willingness to curb the power of the executive and encourage the Legislature as a co-equal branch of government.
“For too long, Albany’s executive and legislative branches were fighting each other in the arena. No more. That ends now,” Hochul said. “What I am proposing is a whole new era for New York. The days of governors disregarding the rightful role of this Legislature are over.”
Hochul’s olive branch was also symbolic in the way she returned the annual gubernatorial address to the state Assembly chamber, which she called the “original and rightful setting” for it. Cuomo’s addresses took place in the convention center at the Empire State Plaza, which allowed for more people to attend beyond the members of the Legislature.
“I’ve been proud to stand with the members of this Legislature, signing more than 400 of your bills into law since September,” Hochul said. “And we’re just getting started. New Yorkers need the help of everyone in this room to pass an ambitious agenda.”
That agenda also includes actual legislative measures that would deal directly with the executive branch. She proposed earlier this week a set of constitutional amendments that would limit the governor and all other statewide elected officials to serve two terms and be restricted from earning outside income while in office. Term limits in New York have been floated before, but there is a process. Amendments to the state Constitution must be approved by two separately elected sessions of the Legislature and then put to voters in a referendum for final ratification.
In addition, Hochul called Wednesday for an overhaul of the state’s lead ethics panel, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, which has been criticized by many over the years for its lack of independence from lawmakers, and particularly the governor, who gets to select the commission chairperson and, along with the lieutenant governor, six of its 14 members.
Lawmakers also began the new legislative session on Wednesday, and budget negotiations, which await Hochul's formal budget proposal later this month, are on the near horizon.