ALBANY — Her election victory is just days old, but Gov. Kathy Hochul won’t have much of a lull period.
Over the next two months, she has to sign or veto more than 400 bills, likely make changes to her administration and select a new chief judge of New York.
And that’s all before January, when she will have to map out a strategy for dealing with a slightly different State Legislature and balance a state budget that won’t have the generous federal pandemic aid of past years.
It also will be a year when the state will award new downstate casinos, figure out congestion pricing and the future of the Long Island Power Authority, and go through another round of redistricting.
WHAT TO KNOW
- Gov. Kathy Hochul has to sign or veto more than 400 bills, likely make changes to her administration and select a new chief judge of New York — all before January.
- Hochul will have to map out a strategy for dealing with a slightly different State Legislature and balance a state budget that won’t have the generous federal pandemic aid of past years.
- The state will award new downstate casinos, figure out congestion pricing and the future of the Long Island Power Authority, and go through another round of redistricting next year.
Finally, there’s this: History suggests that if there’s a year to fight with the legislature, it’s the first year a new governor starts a four-year term.
That’s been a constant, whether it was Andrew M. Cuomo, Eliot Spitzer or George Pataki.
“Typically, in the first year of a new administration, the executive wants to make the tough decisions rather than later in an election year — and particularly this year with the federal pandemic aid going away,” said Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.
Hochul technically will be in her second term as New York’s chief executive, having taken over in August 2021 when Cuomo resigned while facing a likely impeachment trial.
But the circumstances — and the pending election campaign — helped create a mostly smooth honeymoon period with lawmakers in the 2022 legislative session. The upcoming year likely will be more like a traditional first year for a governor — freer to set an agenda and battle if necessary.
“Executives are freer in the years following an election,” said Lawrence Levy, dean of the Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University. “So she doesn’t have to worry about everything she says and does being amplified in the minds of voters. She is past the election and can try some new directions and even new relationships with legislators.”
On one hand, Hochul’s closer-than-expected victory over Republican Lee Zeldin — 53% to 47% — and her lack of electoral coattails (Democrats lost congressional and legislative seats) “could create the perception that she’s not strong politically,” Levy said, allowing the Senate and Assembly to push back more.
On the other, pending the finalization of two local elections, it appears Senate Democrats will lose their two-thirds “supermajority,” which gives them veto override ability. The likelihood of Democratic legislators overriding a Democratic governor was always small, but losing that tool gives the governor a stronger hand in shaping an agenda.
Sign or veto more than 400 bills
Among her first tasks, even before Jan. 1, is to sign or veto more than 400 bills approved by the legislature earlier this year. Many of them are routine, but some are controversial.
That includes a proposed moratorium on certain types of cryptomining, new limitations on housing foreclosures by banks and a ban on selling dogs, cats and rabbits in pet stores. Another would restore the state comptroller’s powers to audit contracts executed by the governor’s office, which was removed during Cuomo’s tenure.
High on the to-do list is appointing a new chief judge to replace Janet DiFiore, a Cuomo pick who steered New York’s top court in a conservative direction, especially on criminal justice issues. DiFiore retired in August.
Hochul already is under pressure from the left to select a more liberal chief judge, perhaps one with experience as a public defender since several of Cuomo’s picks came from the prosecutorial side.
Per state law, a judicial screening committee is slated to send Hochul a list of up to seven candidates by around Thanksgiving. She then would have up to 30 days to choose one; the state Senate would likely hold a confirmation hearing in early January.
More administration changes?
Some insiders also are expecting the governor to make more changes in the administration. When she took office last year, she replaced some key Cuomo personnel but otherwise made few changes in state agencies.
Two commissions will be dealing with casinos and LIPA, which, though not strictly under the governor’s control, will be viewed as her property, politically speaking.
In early January, a gaming board will be accepting applications for three new downstate casinos.
A commission created by the State Legislature is supposed to deliver a draft plan by the end of the year on how LIPA might be restructured into a public utility. But the commission already is behind on its schedule for meetings and public hearings. It’s an issue sure to roll over into the first year of Hochul’s four-year term.
Plus, she needs to appoint new LIPA trustees, including a new chairman.
Yet another commission will deal with drawing new boundaries for Assembly districts. A lawsuit earlier this year triggered the redrawing of New York’s congressional and State Senate districts. A separate claim dealing with the Assembly was deemed to be filed too close to Election Day but will force the redrawing of its districts in 2023.