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No need to rush, or to give governor more power

New York’s lawmakers did the right thing in approving $40 million to help the state confront the possible threat posed by the coronavirus.

They did so in the worst way possible.

The legislation came with an expansion of the governor’s powers in a time of emergency, despite the fact that New York’s governor already has some of the most expansive emergency powers in the nation. According to Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, D-New York City and Assembly Health Committee chairman, no one in the state Health Department has mentioned a situation in which the government’s response to health crises — including the HIV/AIDS crisis, the swine flu or ebola — could have been helped if the governor had an expanded ability to declare an emergency or to declare all or part of any local or state law invalid.

Because the legislature immediately granted a Message of Necessity to the governor’s legislation, there was scant debate and no opportunity for the public to weigh in. Typically, Republicans are the ones complaining about use of Messages of Necessity, but it’s noteworthy that Gottfried and a smattering of Democrats in the Assembly were upset with the expansion of the governor’s power and the lack of debate by lawmakers.

As Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown, said on the Assembly floor, there was no need to vote on the $40 million coronavirus funding bill around midnight Monday. No banks were open, no government department was cutting any checks, no requests for proposals were being placed, no medical supplies were going to be immediately bought and delivered. Gottfried noted the state Health Department could be working on protocols and procedures whether or not the funding bill was approved Monday or Wednesday, the earliest day a vote would have been possible without a Message of Necessity.

Of course, who needs the legislators’ logic? On Monday, before the legislative debate, Gov. Andrew Cuomo himself said there was not yet an emergency. “In this situation, the facts defeat fear. Because the reality is reassuring. It is deep-breath time,” Cuomo said during a news conference, according to the Associated Press.

So which one was it, Mr. Governor? Was there an emergency or not? Nothing about the coronavirus spending bill was an emergency that couldn’t have waited two days to allow questions to be answered.

Message of Necessity reform is needed, now. Maybe the governor should include that in budget deliberations –he wants to include everything else.

And yes, that bill should undergo at least the three-day aging period. Bad governance is bad, but not even Cuomo’s abuse of the system should qualify as an emergency.

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