Gov. Kathy Hochul has a lot of power as governor, but she is going to need more than a little help from her friends if she wants to make good on a variety of policy proposals outlined in her State of the State address.
The speech she gave Wednesday includes lots of ideas that she could enact through executive actions or a state budget process where she will have outsized power over state lawmakers. Some of the most prominent proposals in the State of the State address, however, will require action from people outside her control, whether they are local officials, state lawmakers, federal leaders or the voting public. Their support would help Hochul enact her legislative agenda while also making good on changing the ways of Albany following the recent scandals that led to the downfall of her infamously heavy-handed predecessor.
Hochul has branded herself as a collaborator above all else – but that also means her agenda is dependent on others’ cooperation to enact her greater vision for the Empire State.
“What I am proposing is a whole new era for New York,” Hochul said in her speech delivered from within the Assembly chambers in the state Capitol. “The days of governors disregarding the rightful role of this legislature are over. The days of the governor of New York and mayor of New York City wasting time on petty rivalries are over. The days of New Yorkers questioning whether their government is actually working for them are over.”
The most important partner for the governor is arguably the state lawmakers. They were the official audience for her State of the State address and will ultimately vote on many of the proposals that Hochul unveiled on Wednesday. Democratic lawmakers – who have supermajorities in the state Senate and Assembly – praised her speech and the collaborative spirit that Hochul says she wants to define relations between the legislative and executive branches in the upcoming months. “It is good to have partners in government who understand fundamentally that there are things that we can do together,” state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins told reporters after Hochul’s speech.
Many of the 200 or so proposals in the State of the State will come down to negotiations between the governor and state lawmakers in the weeks before the April 1 state budget deadline, including her proposal to replace the much-criticized Joint Commission on Public Ethics. However, the fate of a gubernatorial proposal to limit statewide officials to two four-year terms is firmly within the control of state legislators because it would require an amendment to the state Constitution, which must be passed by two successive legislatures (no gubernatorial approval necessary) before it would go to voters as a ballot referendum, which could happen as soon as late 2023. Hochul also wants lawmakers to launch a fresh effort to amend the state constitution to allow same-day voting registration and no-excuse absentee voting – ideas rejected by the electorate last year following an advertising blitz funded by the political right.
Voters might also have a chance to weigh in on another issue this year. Hochul wants to boost the state’s resilience to climate change by adding $1 billion to a $3 billion environmental bond act – an idea she first announced weeks ago – expected to go before voters this November after being delayed earlier in the pandemic. “This is a threat to our way of life – here and now – and that's why we must, and will, implement an ambitious agenda to meet this moment.” A 2020 Siena College poll found broad support among registered voters for the proposed bond act.
An influx of federal funding over the past year has left the state in a relatively good fiscal position, but Hochul says a statewide expansion of pre-kindergarten programs for three and four year-olds depends on what federal lawmakers do. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer and the rest of the state congressional delegation will be key to securing the necessary funding, according to a briefing book released by the Hochul administration that details her State of the State proposals. “In the event the federal government does not step in, Governor Hochul has a plan to meaningfully expand the availability of childcare to New York’s working families,” reads the briefing book. Federal funding is also key to other parts of her agenda, including plans to extend the Second Avenue Subway and a range of renewable energy projects.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams meanwhile will likely have a lot of influence on addressing ongoing increases in violent crime. “Going forward, we will double down on practical, proven law enforcement strategies to combat gun violence,” Hochul said Wednesday. “Working with Mayor Adams and (Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin) who I've asked to take the lead for our Administration, we will form a new consortium between the New York State Police, the NYPD and other law enforcement agencies, including neighboring states to trace guns used in crimes and stop the flow of guns into our State.” The notoriously dysfunctional relationship between former Gov. Andrew Cuomo and former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio demonstrated how politics can interfere with the working relationship between top leaders, a dynamic that Hochul has repeatedly said she is trying to avoid.
The State of the State gave the broad strokes of Hochul’s legislative agenda, but lawmakers, activists, lobbyists and many others will have to wait until later this month to see specific legislative language in her proposed budget. That means another week or two of suspense about how Hochul intends on making good on her vows to enact transformative changes on a range of fronts. She is already saying she wants to share the credit for any success, which makes a lot of sense considering how her plans to deal with some of the trickiest issues around depend on the good will of the few people in New York state who can match her gubernatorial power.