ALBANY — As state government officials in early March tried to prepare for the COVID-19 pandemic’s imminent crash upon the Empire State, Gov. Andrew Cuomo was granted sweeping emergency powers to take control and lead unilaterally through the crisis.
Now, Republican leaders say it’s time to give up the reins.
“By virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the state of New York, I hereby find… that a disaster is impending in New York state, for which the affected local governments are unable to respond adequately,” read Cuomo’s Executive Order 202, issued March 7. “I do hereby declare a state disaster emergency for the entire state of New York.”
With that order and an act of the Democratic-controlled Legislature to authorize his expanded powers, Cuomo’s administration temporarily reformed or redacted large portions of existing education, election, public health and finance laws, among others. Schools are no longer required to be open for 180 days per year to be eligible for state aid, for example, residency requirements for appointing public officers are suspended and all public bodies can now meet by telephone, provided there are public recordings of the meetings.
Cuomo has been one of the nation’s most visible and involved pandemic figures in the two months since Executive Order 202, holding daily briefings on the state’s progress and traveling to treatment sites from Long Island to Erie County. The daily COVID-19 death toll continues to abate, according to state health officials, and upstate regions are beginning to agitate for immediate relief from Cuomo’s PAUSE NY restrictions.
“The emergency powers provided to the governor were always intended to be temporary,” said Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay, R-Pulaski, in a Saturday press release. “As we see the COVID-19 threat begin to subside and we move in the direction of re-opening New York, the time has come for state government return to its basic principle of representative democracy.”
With the coronavirus seemingly on the retreat in New York, Barclay said it’s time to ask other, important questions — which have taken a back burner for the past 60 days. Some of those issues include what Barclay says is an impending $13.3 billion budget deficit for the fiscal year 2020-2021 and $69 billion in shortfalls in the next four years.
“When are regions opening up? How do we fix a $13 billion budget hole? What are we doing to help people and businesses fully recover?” Barclay said. “Answers to these questions need to be developed through a legislative process and in a manner that gives a voice to every New Yorker. One-party rule is rife with issues. But one-person rule is not how our system of government was ever designed to run.”
Barclay last week lent his support to State Sen. Patty Ritchie’s effort to bring attention to the plight of New Yorkers forced out of work by the pandemic, and the widespread struggles to crack what she called a “broken” unemployment insurance system. The Heuvelton Republican on Sunday returned the favor, saying Barclay is on the right track in trying to claw back some of Cuomo’s new authority.
“As regions of the state move toward re-opening and the threat of COVID-19 becomes less severe, the voices of our constituents need to be heard,” Ritchie told The Palladium-Times. “In the wake of this pandemic, it’s clear that our state will face major issues. When it comes to addressing those issues, it is critically important that the Legislature be part of process.”
Request for comment to a member of Cuomo’s press staff was not immediately returned.