A Legislative Column by Assemblyman Will Barclay
The 2017 legislative session is under way in Albany.
Pursuant to the state constitution, the Governor is required during every session to communicate to the legislature the condition of the state.
This, in the modern era, has been known as the Governor’s State of the State address. Traditionally, it has been given in early January by means of a speech in the Assembly chamber.
There was a reason that governors followed this tradition for most of the 20th century right up until Governor Cuomo’s first year in office, it is because it brought together all branches of state government to hear the Governor’s priorities for the upcoming year.
Essentially, it provided a road map for the Governor and the legislature for that legislative session.
While the event, much like the U.S. President’s State of the Nation address, had its share of pomp and circumstance, it also set forth serious policy proposals.
After his first election, Governor Cuomo in complete disregard of tradition, announced that he would not give his State of the State address in the Assembly Chamber.
Rather, Governor Cuomo announced he would give his speech in the State Convention Center.
The change of venue allowed Governor Cuomo to completely control the occasion.
As a result, it became more of a stage show that even included power point presentations.
This year, the Governor is going one step further by totally doing away with a State of the State address.
Instead, he has announced plans to make several speeches around the state that apparently will set forth his policy proposal for the year.
The Governor claims he is doing this because he wants to take his message directly to the people of New York.
This claim is a bit specious in light of the fact that the Governor’s State of the State address is always highly publicized and there is no reason that he could not make a State of the State address and follow that up with regional speeches throughout the state.
Commentators have noted that the real reason the Governor is not doing his State of the State address is because he is afraid to face the legislature.
Last year, the Governor, disrespectfully in my view, was heckled by a legislator during his State of the State Address.
This year, because his relationship with the legislature has hit an all-time low, he probably fears either more heckling or, which has been mentioned, a boycott of his speech by a large number of legislators.
This is an unfortunate turn of events.
In my experience, solving issues in government works best when people can sit down in a mutually respectful manner, set forth their opinions, and seek compromise.
By not presenting his State of the State address to the legislature, whether in the Assembly chamber or elsewhere, it sends a message that the Governor does not have a respectful view of the institution of the legislature, which, by the way, is supposed to be a co-equal branch of government.
More importantly, it sets a bad tone when our state desperately needs leadership willing to work with everyone to set this state in a new and better direction.
Because of his actions, the Governor will be challenged to find enthusiastic support in the legislature for his leadership.
Although it is too late this year, next year Governor Cuomo ought to return to the tradition of giving a State of the State address and members of the legislature should respectfully listen to what the Governor has to say.
There is no reason to follow tradition for the sake of tradition, but when it comes to the State of the State Address there are good reasons why it was done the way it was done and to simply disregard that tradition is an unnecessary step backwards.
If you have any questions or comments regarding this or any other state issue, please contact me.
My office can be reached by mail at 200 N. Second St., Fulton, NY 13069, by e-mail at [email protected], or by calling (315) 598-5185.
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