Between midnight and dawn last Thursday, Governor Andrew Cuomo used emergency measures to push a major package of laws through the state legislature. So-called “messages of necessity” were designed to be used only during emergencies and bypass the normal three-day waiting period that allows the public and press to review bills before the legislature takes a vote. The measures herded through the Senate and Assembly in the wee hours included new state legislative lines, an expansion of the state’s DNA database, legalization of casino gambling and significant changes to public pension system.
Cuomo has taken considerable criticism for this move. The New York World wants to know, is this the first time Gov. Cuomo has used messages of necessity, and how have other governors employed the tactic?
What we found
Gov. Cuomo has sent messages of necessity for nearly every significant piece of legislation during his term so far, bypassing the usual public review for bills.
He used it to pass his first budget, same-sex marriage, and for his “millionaire’s tax.” “Three days of debate, everyone has an opinion, it’s entirely transparent, we never reach resolution,” Cuomo told told the Associated Press. “I get 100 percent for transparency. I get zero for results.”
The message of necessity has a long history among Albany governors as well. A 2004 report by the Brennan Center for Justice found that 27 percent of all major legislation passed issued from a message of necessity.
Calls for reform are not new. The New York Times ran an op-ed and an editorial in late 2004 and early 2005 calling for a limit to how governors could use messages of necessity. No such reforms surfaced. A 4-to-3 ruling by New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, soon decided that the courts aren’t in a position to challenge that justification.
Andrew Cuomo is hardly the first governor to fast track measures through the state legislature. In 2010, Gov. David Paterson used a message of necessity to make sure the Wage Theft Prevention Act prevailed. A 1987 message of necessity from Gov. Mario Cuomo delayed 650 state employees from being laid off. But as the examples below show, the current governor is especially prone to using the device – to the applause of some and the scolding of others.
We’ve compiled a list below of significant bills that were forced to a vote through messages of necessity.
The issue: New state pension system, new legislative lines, lifting a ban on casino gambling, a teacher evaluation deal, and expansion of the DNA databank
“Government is ultimately judged by how effective and efficient it is in meeting the needs of its citizens,” Dadey said. “We always would like to see it achieved through an open and transparent process. The sad reality is sometimes it’s not.”
“This is the alternative to impasse.”
The issue: Middle class tax cuts and the so-called millionaire’s tax
“The process by which the deal was struck is a continuation of the backdoor-deal making that has defined Albany culture.”
“Our state government has come together in a bipartisan manner to create jobs, grow our economy and, at the same time, enact a fair tax plan that cuts taxes for the middle class.”
The issue: Same-sex marriage
“It is ironic that much of the state’s brief passionately spews sanctimonious verbiage on the separation of powers in the governmental branches, and clear arm-twisting by the Executive on the Legislative permeates this entire process.”
Any further delay would “deny more than 50,000 same-sex couples critical protections afforded to heterosexual couples.”
The issue: The 2011 annual budget
“What’s the point of passing a budget on time when there’s not enough time to read it?”
“The facts necessitating an immediate vote on the bills are as follows: The bill is necessary to enact the 2011-2012 State budget”