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Legislators need strength in numbers

“There is strength in numbers, but organizing those numbers is one of the great challenges.” — John C. Mather, American astrophysicist, cosmologist and Nobel Prize in Physics laureate

John Mather probably wasn’t talking about the New York state Legislature in the quote we reference above, but what an apt description.

For all of the talk about a Democratic supermajority in the state Senate being able to override Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s vetoes, does anyone think the legislature would actually use that power? For all the talk about separation of powers, has the state Legislature actually done anything but talk about taking back the emergency powers it gave Andrew Cuomo last March?

It’s doubtful.

Legislators had a golden opportunity to prove their mettle last week by standing up to Cuomo over proposed changes to a volunteer firefighter recruitment and retention task force. Both houses of the legislature overwhelmingly approved the task force during last year’s legislative session, and Cuomo signed the bills with one caveat — he wanted nine appointments instead of one appointment, effectively giving Cuomo control over what the finished product recommends.

There is no reason why the governor needs nine appointments to such a commission. As was originally written, the governor got one appointment to the group. Now, he gets nearly as many appointments as the original commission had members.

Some will ask why people should care about this commission or its makeup. The answer is there appears to be no bounds to Cuomo’s quest for control of state matters, nor are there any boundaries to the legislature’s appeasement of Cuomo’s quest for power.

“I hope this is not the beginning of a new year of capitulating to the governor,” said Assemblyman Charles Barron, D-Brooklyn, during floor debate. “Regardless of where it comes from, which side of the floor, I think we have to stop capitulating to the governor. … This is an easy one. When we get chapter amendments when the governor wants to control more stuff, and we end up watering down legislation and/or disempowering ourselves, this is a bad way to start the new year off. If we start off like this I’m really, really concerned about what happens when it gets to bigger and extremely important things — not that firefighting isn’t important. It is extremely important, but when we get to the budget, I’m just hopeful we won’t give him the power we gave him in last year’s budget.”

Barron is right. If the Legislature isn’t going to stand up to Cuomo over a task force, is it really going to stand up to Cuomo over COVID-19 nursing home policy, the state budget, the COVID-19 vaccine rollout or any number of big-ticket items?

It’s not likely. There are 213 state legislators compared to one governor — but until those 213 legislators organize themselves, there is no strength in their number.

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