Now that Senate Democrats in New York state have secured two-thirds of the legislative seats in that chamber, what will they do with their supermajority?
A Democratic supermajority in both houses of the State Legislature (the State Assembly has been under a Democratic supermajority for decades) will certainly change the political landscape of Albany. Undoubtedly, Republicans will maintain the voice of loyal opposition, but they will be largely relegated to just that—a voice of opposition impotent of the votes to block Democratic initiatives.
The full weight of the newly empowered legislative supermajority will be felt in two areas: legislative redistricting and the power dynamic between Governor Andrew Cuomo and the State Legislature.
First, there is redistricting. Following the census every ten years, legislative districts are redrawn. Ideally, these lines would be drawn independent of party politics, but historically this has not been the case. Traditionally, the party in power redraws the lines to favor their party’s re-election effort. Democrats in the State Assembly have gerrymandered districts to favor Democratic candidates and Senate Republicans have drawn lines that favor the GOP. With the two legislative chambers previously controlled by different parties, there has been a relative stalemate in this process.
However, the current system of legislative redistricting allows a two-thirds majority of the state Legislature to have final approval of any redistricting plans created by a 10-person bipartisan commission. Under the current proposal, Republicans will have almost no input in the redistricting process. This will likely work against GOP efforts to gain legislative seats for the next decade.
The second area where the legislative supermajority will matter is the power balance between the state’s executive and legislative branches of government. It is common for there to be some measure of tension between a governor and legislative bodies. A two-thirds majority strengthens the hand of the Legislature in negotiations, because a supermajority in both legislative chambers provides legislators with enough votes to override a gubernatorial veto.
“I think it [supermajority status] will make a huge difference,” said Democratic state Senator-elect Jabari Brisport, a democratic socialist from Brooklyn. “Then we don’t need to worry about the governor vetoing higher taxes on the wealthy. We have an absolute opportunity to completely change New York and make New York a progressive beacon across the entire country.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is a shrewd politician and a polished tactician. If he vetoes legislation, New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms anticipates that Cuomo would then work behind the scenes to sweeten the pot with funding for programs in particular legislative districts where legislators agree to uphold the Governor’s veto. Even if the Legislature never chooses to override a gubernatorial veto, though, the mere fact that it could holds the Governor in negotiations with the Legislature.
Some of the policies that could be promoted by the Democratic supermajorities include: new taxes on higher-income earners, the legalization and commercialization of recreational marijuana, assisted suicide, online or mobile sports betting, and government-run healthcare that would virtually eliminate private health insurance plans.
Buckle up. 2021 is going to be quite a ride.