New York Needs Message of Necessity Reform

New Yorkers are still reeling following the rushed passage of the New York State Budget, which included Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s job-killing minimum wage increase. It is disgraceful that the New York State Senate voted 61-1 in favor of this disastrous legislation.

Before Gov. Cuomo took office, the state budget process was notoriously slow. It sometimes took until June (or even later in the year) for the budget process to be completed. To Gov. Cuomo’s credit, his administration has worked to complete the budget every year by April 1 at latest. However, the budget process is still plagued by deep dysfunction. One major problem with the budget is that the Governor and the legislative leaders typically wait until the last minute before reaching closed-door agreements on budgetary provisions. The result of this procrastination is that budget bills are often drafted and voted upon without adequate time for review by rank-and-file legislators or members of the public. This approach to budget legislation is unacceptable.

This year, the budget process was even more dysfunctional than usual. Agreements on major budget provisions were not announced until late in the evening on March 31. Lawmakers voted on budget legislation in the wee hours of the morning and throughout the following day. Legislators publicly complained that they had no opportunity to read bills before voting on them. Incredibly, it appears that some budget bills were passed despite the fact that certain provisions had not yet been written (the bills included sections marked “intentionally omitted).

One vitally important remedy to this mockery of representative government is reform of the message of necessity. Article III, Section 14 of the New York State Constitution currently reads as follows:

No bill shall be passed or become a law unless it shall have been printed and upon the desks of the members, in its final form, at least three calendar legislative days prior to its final passage, unless the governor, or the acting governor, shall have certified, under his or her hand and the seal of the state, the facts which in his or her opinion necessitate an immediate vote thereon…

In recent years, messages of necessity have been improperly used to facilitate the immediate passage of budget bills or other legislation in non-emergency circumstances. This year, for example, Gov. Cuomo used messages of necessity to avoid the requirement that budget bills age for three days before being voted upon. The message of necessity helps the Governor and legislative leaders to strong-arm legislators into voting on bills without providing adequate time for them to be appropriately reviewed and analyzed.

Bill S.1086 (Marchione)/A.1601 (Tedisco), the Message of Necessity Reform Amendment, would amend the New York State Constitution to impose greater restrictions upon the use of messages of necessity. Under the proposed amendment, no bill could be passed under a message of necessity unless it received a two-thirds majority vote in each House of the State Legislature. Also, any bill passed pursuant to a message of necessity would expire no later than two years from its effective date.

NYCF strongly supports the passage of message of necessity reform. However, while this reform measure is an important step in the direction of a cleaner and more accountable state government, there is no substitute for electing public servants who have the backbone to stand up to the Albany establishment in both parties.