A NY State Senate Supermajority Makes History

Following last November’s election, while millions of people around the world were focused on the transition from the Trump administration to the Biden administration, many overlooked a major governmental change right here in New York State. Although for two decades, Democrats have had a supermajority in the New York State Assembly, in November, for the first time in New York’s history, Democrats in the New York State Senate gained a supermajority. This development is of the utmost importance, because with control of two thirds of both the Assembly and the Senate, the balance of power has shifted, and Democrats can now ensure passage of legislation even over Governor Cuomo’s veto. 

Here’s why a supermajority matters: In New York, when a law is proposed and both chambers of the State legislature approve the bill, it is then given to the governor to sign. If the governor vetoes the bill, a two thirds majority of each house of the legislature, i.e., the Senate and the Assembly, is required to override the veto and turn the bill into law. Although the Assembly has had the required Democratic supermajority for twenty years, until November’s election, a supermajority eluded Democrats in the Senate, ensuring that Senate Republicans could prevent a Democratic override of the governor’s veto. Now, however, the Senate can override the veto and pass a law without the approval of the governor. 

New York State Senator Shelley Mayer, a Democrat whose district encompasses the Blind Brook School District, recently explained her priorities now that the Senate has a supermajority. She said that her main focus is to pass bills that protect school districts and provide more money for schools. During this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for money in schools is of utmost importance as districts struggle to provide students who have fallen behind with additional services. Another of Sen. Mayer’s goals is to provide free broadband for every child in school so they don’t have to pay for high speed Internet during online school. Sen. Mayer’s other priorities include fair distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, rebuilding the economy, and addressing the pressing problem of hunger.

Given that Democrats now have a supermajority in the Senate, there is a greater opportunity to override a veto. As Sen. Mayer explained, the governor has a tremendous amount of power to put policy into the budget, as well as on fiscal matters. Before the supermajority, if the Senate disagreed with a policy the governor proposed, they were obligated to agree to it. By having a Democratic supermajority now, the Senate has much more influence and bargaining power, she added, giving the Senate more voice on the budget priorities. Even though Gov. Cuomo is also a Democrat, there are policy areas where he and Senate Democrats may disagree. These include issues relating to gambling, details about recreational marijuana use, and benefits for New Yorkers who are ineligible for unemployment. Sen. Mayer anticipates that one controversial item on her legislative agenda will be an increase in taxes. Sen. Mayer has a bill that imposes higher taxes on people earning over $5,000,000 a year. These taxes would go towards education of K-12 students, SUNY schools, and CUNY schools. Gov. Cuomo has often opposed bills increasing taxes, she explained. But with the new supermajority in the Senate, his veto on such tax legislation could be overridden. 

Sen. Mayer believes there were a couple of factors that contributed to New York being one of the only state legislatures where Democrats achieved a significant gain in the most recent election. First, there were qualified candidates who represented the values of their districts very well and supported the kind of progressive policy changes that the Senate has achieved during the two years it has had a Democratic majority. Also, people who were opposed to the Trump Administration were highly encouraged to vote in local elections. As a result, Sen. Mayer explained, many Democratic Senate candidates benefitted from the activism that grew as a reaction to the Trump presidency. The Democratic supermajority in New York State presents the opportunity to address concerns that are relevant to everyone, including Focus readers.