Actions the Governor can take to make New York government more open, accountable and democratic
Like all New Yorkers, we wish Governor-elect Cuomo good luck as he tackles the state’s enormous problems. In this report we offer eleven model executive orders for the Governor to use to promote more open, accountable and democratic New York State government. Our model orders have been endorsed by leading civic and public interest groups. They are pragmatic, innovative, and offer the governor an opportunity to show New Yorkers that rapid, positive, change is achievable.
Much of Governor Cuomo’s political energy will be spent grinding out a tough, probably frustrating, budget with the state Legislature. The fiscal crisis is not an accident. It is the direct result of New York having an unaccountable and often irresponsible state government. Few New Yorkers know what their government is doing. Even experts have trouble deciphering the convoluted budget, or keeping track of last minute legislation. That’s by design. Our ignorance is Albany’s bliss. We the people can’t hold our government accountable if we don’t know what it is doing. That has to change.
Governor-elect Cuomo has pledged to reform Albany. We hope he does. He can start by issuing the eleven model orders in this report. They are tools designed to empower the citizenry, and the Governor. Some orders use the internet to open up government information and track what agencies are doing; others create a more transparent budget process; and others reduce, barriers to voting. All of them are crafted to be cost-effective, and result in large public benefits.
We hope our report inspires both immediate action, and more innovative thinking about the significant potential of executive orders to promote better government. Along with the model orders, our report includes important new research by noted New York government scholar Gerald Benjamin. He documents the evolution of executive powers in New York, their modern use, and important findings on the limits on the Governor’s authority to use them to reorganize state agencies.
We urge Governor-elect Cuomo to use these model orders, and this report, as part of a wider public campaign to reinvent New York State government, and to make it more open, accountable and democratic.
Executive Director, Reinvent Albany
P.S. Special thanks to my co-authors for their hard work, innovative thinking, and tireless advocacy for New York.
Eleven Model Orders Governor-Elect Cuomo Can Use To Launch His Reform Efforts
This report includes eleven model executive orders that Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo can use to open up New York State government, increase the accountability of state agencies and reduce barriers to voting. The orders are centered on the basic goal of empowering the citizenry with more and better information about what its government is doing, and how it is spending tax payer dollars. During his campaign, Governor-elect Cuomo pledged to make fundamental reforms to end the dysfunction in Albany. These model orders are specific, realistic actions he can use to launch his reform efforts.
The Governor Has The Power To Make Government More Open and Accountable
Executive orders are formal instructions and policies the governor can issue unilaterally to the state agencies under his control. As our report makes clear, under the New York constitution, the Governor has broad powers to use executive orders to make state government more open and cost effective. In particular, the advent of the Internet has created enormous opportunities to save money by making government more transparent to the public. Even within areas where the Governor’s authority is constrained by the Constitution, he can still use executive orders to create meaningful reforms. For instance, the Governor can make the budget process more transparent and rational. Broad as the Governor’s executive order powers are, there are clear constraints; among them, the Governor has a limited ability to reorganize state agencies established through legislation.
New Scholarship Which Describes The Evolution and Extent of Executive Order Powers
In addition to the eleven model orders, our report includes news scholarship by Gerald Benjamin which describes the evolution, recent use and limits of executive orders. Professor Benjamin recommends granting the Governor new reorganization authority using New Jersey as a model.
Extensive Resource Section with a Description of All Orders Dating to Rockefeller
The report also includes an extensive Resource section. Here, numerous tables and charts document and describe executive orders dating back to Nelson Rockefeller. This section provides valuable context for our proposed model orders, and suggest that innovative and energetic governors can use their executive order powers to great effect.
Executive Orders Which Promote Openness, Accountability, Ethics Reform, and Voting
Our report includes four chapters containing eleven executive orders. The chapters address the following issues:
• Open Up New York State Government Using the Internet
• Increase the Accountability of State Government
• Strengthen Ethics Reform
• Expand the Franchise and Improve the State’s Election Performance
The model orders are diverse in scope and intent. But all of them are intended to help the
citizenry better understand and participate in their government, and thus help bring about more open, accountable and effective government.
Executive Director, Reinvent Albany
Before working at Reinvent Albany, John was a transportation policy consultant to environmental sustainability groups, and prior to that executive director of Transportation Alternatives. He has been immersed in freedom of information, environmental and transportation issues involving New York State government since 1990. Reinvent Albany was founded in the spring of 2010 to promote open, accountable New York State government, and is a tax-exempt (501c3) organization. Info@reinventalbany.org,
Director, Center for Research, Regional Education and Outreach, and Distinguished Teaching Professor, SUNY New Paltz
Gerald Benjamin is widely considered one of the leading authorities on New York State government. He has been involved in numerous efforts to reform state and local government in New York State and New York City and led the successful effort to adopt a charter-based government in Ulster County. He has written and commented extensively on state and local government and regional governance in New York and elsewhere. www.newpaltz.edu/ocm/experts/display.cfm?id=53
Legislative Director, New York Public Interest Research Group, Inc. (NYPIRG)
Blair has worked with NYPIRG for over 30 years, the last 25 as legislative director. From March 2007 through March 2008, he worked as a special advisory on policy and public integrity for New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. Founded in 1973, NYPIRG is a non-partisan, not-for-profit research and advocacy organization. NYPIRG’s principal areas of concern include consumer protection, environmental preservation and government accountability. www.nypirg.org
Senior Counsel in the Democracy Program, Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law
Larry coordinates the Brennan Center’s work on reforming New York State government. He has authored several reports and articles devoted to New York reform, and serves as editor-in-chief of the Brennan Center’s New York blog, ReformNY.blogspot.com. Larry also directs the Center’s Voting Technology Project. In the spring of 2009, he chaired the Ohio Secretary of State’s bipartisan Election Summit, and in June of that year received the Usability Professional Association’s Usability In Civic Life Award for his “pioneering work to improve elections.” Larry is an Adjunct Professor at the NYU School of Law and member of the New York City Bar Association’s State Affairs Committee. The Brennan Center for Justice is a non-partisan public policy and law institute that focuses on fundamental issues of democracy and justice. www.brennancenter.org