The State Government

Government in New York State is essentially a partnership between the State and the local units of government — cities, towns and villages. All of the elements of the State government — the Legislature, the office of the Governor, the courts and the vast administrative structure — are engaged in activities for which the local governments also share responsibility. To understand local government fully, it is necessary to gain a basic understanding of the State government and its far-reaching activities.

Our federal system of government divides responsibilities between the national and state governments. The states, in turn, delegate much power to local governments. The entire system calls for fiscal and political accountability at each government level — from the White House to the village hall.

The interdependence and interrelationships among the Office of the Governor, the State Legislature, state agencies and the local governments are important to know. We must understand the grants of authority, the scope of jurisdiction, the organization and the operative processes of the executive, legislative, judicial and administrative elements of state government in relation to the other elements and to the local government function. The Governor makes policy and provides administrative leadership and direction; the Legislature also makes policy and implements it by enacting legislation and appropriating funds. State agencies carry out the actual programs of state government, and they act as intermediaries and close working partners with local governments. By providing a check and balance on the system, the courts also play an integral part in the operation of state and local government. We will discuss the courts in the following chapter.

The Legislature and the Legislative Process

The Constitution of the State of New York vests the lawmaking power of the state in the Legislature. It is a bicameral, or two-house, legislative body consisting of the Senate and the Assembly. Bicameralism in the United States today has two major roots: the English Parliament and the “Great Compromise,” which was advanced by the State of Connecticut at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. This compromise resulted in a Congress in which all states have equal representation in the Senate and representation roughly proportional to population in the House of Representatives.


Article III, section 2 of the State Constitution prescribes the number and terms of senators and assembly members. The number of senators varies, but there must be a minimum of 50. At present the Senate membership numbers 63.[1] Elected for two-year terms, its members are chosen from senatorial districts established by the Legislature.[2] The presiding officer is the Lieutenant Governor, who may not participate in debates and may vote only in the case of a tie. This tie-breaking vote applies only to organizational and procedural matters and may not be exercised on legislation since constitutionally no bill can become law “…​except by the assent of a majority of the members elected to each branch of the legislature.” [3] The Lieutenant Governor is not regarded as a member of the Senate. In the absence of the Lieutenant Governor, the presiding officer is the President pro tem, whom the Senate chooses from its own membership, or the President pro tem may designate another member to serve as presiding officer. When the presiding officer is a duly elected member of the body, he or she retains the right to vote on all matters.

The State Constitution specifies that the Assembly shall consist of 150 members chosen from single-member districts. Assembly members are elected simultaneously with senators for a term of two years. The presiding officer of the Assembly is the Speaker, who is elected by members of the Assembly.


Article III, section 7 of the State Constitution requires that legislators be citizens of the United States, state residents for at least five years, and residents of the district they represent for at least one year prior to their election. The Constitution does not specify a minimum age requirement for members of the Legislature, but the statutes provide that “No person shall be capable of holding a civil office who shall not, at the time he shall be chosen thereto, have attained the age of eighteen years.” [4]


Article III, section 6 of the State Constitution allows the Legislature itself, by statutory enactment, to establish rates of legislative compensation. Salary is paid on an annual basis and provision is made for reimbursement of expenses. Neither salary nor any other allowance can be altered during the legislative term in which it is enacted.

Dual Office Holding

The State Constitution bars legislators from accepting, during the term for which they are elected, a civil appointment from the Governor, the Governor and the Senate, the Legislature, or from any city government if the office is created or if its compensation is increased during the term for which the member has been elected.[5]

The Constitution also provides that a legislator elected to a congressional seat or accepting any paid civil or military office of the United States, New York State (except as a member of the National Guard, Naval Militia or Reserve Forces), or any city government shall vacate his legislative seat.

Internal Procedures

The State Constitution contains provisions regarding the general organization of the Legislature. Each house: determines its own rules; judges the elections, returns and qualifications of its members; chooses its own officers; keeps and publishes a journal of its proceedings; and keeps its doors open except when the public welfare may require otherwise.

The Legislative Process

The Legislature convenes annually in regular session on the first Wednesday after the first Monday in January. The Legislature, or the Senate alone, may also be convened in special session at the call of the Governor or upon presentation to the Temporary President of the Senate and the Speaker of the Assembly of a petition signed by two-thirds of the members of each house of the Legislature.

Introduction of Bills

The introduction of a bill starts the formal legislative process. In general, members of the Legislature may introduce bills, which often appear simultaneously in both the Senate and the Assembly, beginning on the date the Legislature convenes. However, under Article VII of the State Constitution the Governor can introduce his Executive Budget bills without legislative sponsors. Bills may be presented for “prefiling” in the fall of an even numbered year for formal introduction when the Legislature convenes the following January, which will mark the start of a new two-year legislative term. Budget and appropriation bills that the Governor has submitted pursuant to section 3 of Article VII of the Constitution are delivered on or before the first day of February in each gubernatorial election year, and on or before the second Tuesday following the first day of the annual meeting of the legislature in all other years. The Temporary President designates the final day for unlimited introduction of bills in the Senate in each session. In the Assembly, the final day for unlimited introduction is the third Tuesday of May. After that date so designated in the Senate, and after the third Tuesday of May, each Member of the Assembly may introduce not more than ten bills. More than ten bills may be introduced after the final dates for introduction only by consent of the Temporary President of the Senate, or by the Committee on Rules of both of the respective houses.


The rules of each house provide for the establishment of standing committees to consider and make recommendations concerning bills assigned to the committees according to the subject matter, area affected or specific function to which the bills relate. A bill introduced in the Senate or Assembly is first referred to a standing committee unless, by unanimous consent, it advances without committee reference. A bill begins its course through the Legislature when a majority of the committee membership votes it out of committee.


Bills may be amended an unlimited number of times. In either house the sponsor may amend and recommit a bill in committee, or the committee may report the bill with amendments. Either house may amend a bill even after it has passed in the other house.

The originating house must concur on amendments added by the second house and repass the bill as amended before it may be transmitted to the Governor. Each time a sponsor amends a bill, it adds a letter of the alphabet, beginning with “A,” to the bill number. Either house may substitute, on a motion from the floor, an identical bill from the other house.

Action by the Governor

Ordinarily the Governor must sign a bill which has passed both houses of the Legislature before it becomes a law. While the Legislature is in session, the Governor has 10 days, excluding Sundays, to approve or veto a bill. If the Governor signs the bill, or does not take action within the 10 days, the bill becomes a law. If the Governor vetoes the bill, it dies unless it is repassed with the approval of two-thirds of the members of each house in which case it becomes a law notwithstanding the veto.

All bills passed or returned to the Governor during the last 10 days before the Legislature finally adjourns are treated as “30-day” bills. On such bills, the Governor has 30 calendar days, including Sundays, after the Legislature adjourns, within which to act. If the Governor does not act on a bill during the 30-day period, it does not becomes a law, but is deemed vetoed. Such bills are said to have been “pocket vetoed”, since the Governor is not required to act upon them and does not have to give reasons for his or her failure to act.

Constitutional Amendments

A concurrent resolution proposing an amendment to the State Constitution is considered by the Legislature in the same manner as a bill. The Legislature must, however, transmit the proposed amendment to the Attorney General for an opinion as to its possible effect upon other provisions of the Constitution. The Attorney General must return the proposal within 20 days. Failure of the Attorney General to render an opinion does not affect the proposal or action thereon. If adopted by both houses, it is sent to the Secretary of State for filing and publication prior to the election of a new Legislature. No action by the Governor is required. The proposal must again be submitted to the next succeeding Legislature. If adopted a second time, it is submitted to the people for consideration and vote. If approved, it becomes part of the Constitution as of the following January first.

A concurrent resolution ratifying a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution is treated in the same manner as a bill. If adopted by the Legislature, the resolution is delivered to the New York State Secretary of State, who forwards it to the United States General Services Administration.

Sources of Legislation

A characteristic of our relatively open society in the United States is that an idea for legislation, and indeed a bill itself, may originate from almost any source. Sources of legislative proposals include the Governor’s annual legislative program, the legislative programs of the various state departments, individual legislators, special interest groups, municipal associations, local governments, individual citizens and various committees of the Legislature.

Legislation — Local Government Role

The legislative process provides local officials and the public with the opportunity to express their views on pending legislation to the Legislature and the Governor. Individuals can have an impact on legislation; it does not take an accomplished lobbyist to point out to legislators and legislative leaders the advantages or deficiencies of a particular bill. Officials and citizens alike should not be dissuaded from making their views known merely because they are unfamiliar with the legislative process. Local officials can turn to their municipal associations for guidance on legislative matters, and citizens have the opportunity to work with an array of public and special interest groups.

In many cases, the task of making one’s views known may begin before specific legislation has been introduced. Legislative commissions and committees frequently hold public hearings on particular problems at which the views of public officials and citizens are sought. Also, individual legislators often actively seek out the views of their constituents as to needed legislation.

The time to make one’s views known about a particular bill is while it is under consideration by the Legislature, particularly while the bill is in committee. Written comments given to the committee’s chairperson, with sufficient copies for committee members and staff, will help accomplish this purpose.

After a bill is reported out of committee, getting an opinion across may be increasingly difficult, because, if for no other reason, a vast number of bills come before each house. At this point it is best to direct comments to the leaders of each house. Anyone wishing to express views on a bill should remember that even after a bill has passed one house prior to becoming law, the other house must consider it, first in committee and then on the floor. After a bill has passed both houses, comments should be directed to the Governor or his or her Counsel. Here, again, time is of the essence. If passed early in the session, the Governor has 10 days from the time the bill is delivered to him or her in which to sign or veto it.

In the Assembly, the news media and the public are provided access to all standing committee meetings. The committee chairpersons have the option to close meetings or hold executive sessions in accordance with the Open Meetings Law, but roll call votes must be available to the press and to the public as soon as practicable. The public may also check committee attendance records. The Assembly public information office provides the public with a variety of materials relating to standing committees (schedules of meetings, hearings, etc.), sponsor’s memoranda on bills, transcripts of debates, daily calendars and other relevant information. The Assembly also maintains a website.

The Senate rules require a great deal of transparency about actions taken by the Senate, its members and its committees. These rules provide that all committee meetings must be open to the news media and the public. Additionally the committee meetings are webcast and archived (available after the meeting is over) on the Senate Standing Committee website (although committee chairpersons may call special closed meetings in accordance with the Open Meetings Law). The rules also provide that agendas for committee meetings must be made available to the news media and to the public, the Thursday prior to the meeting and provide that standing committees must serve all year. The Senate Journal Clerk’s office provides, or helps the public to obtain, materials similar to those available from the Assembly Public Information Office. The Senate also maintains a website, which has public information about bills introduced, committee actions, and provides access to all hearings, roundtables, committee meetings and reports and information of interest to the public. Both houses provide a telephone “hotline” service during sessions, from which anyone can obtain information on the current status of any bill.

The Governor

The Governor is the central figure in the State’s public affairs. The Governor initiates programs and executes them; guides the Legislature; appoints and removes key officials; and represents the state and its people. The Governor has a very strong role in the State of New York, since the office includes policy development, legislative leadership, executive control and sovereign responsibilities.

Policy Development

The policymaking role derives from the Governor’s responsibilities and position as chief executive officer of the state. The role of chief policymaker is therefore more implied than explicitly stated in either the State Constitution or other state laws. As the state’s activities have grown, the Governor’s concerns have become broader. Today they include economic and community development, transportation, education, environmental conservation, health, criminal justice, drug abuse, housing and other matters affecting daily life. The people look to the Governor for leadership and direction in these areas, but the Constitution does not explicitly vest the office with such powers. The Constitution mandates that the Governor annually present a “State of the State” message and an executive budget to the Legislature.[6]

Legislative Leadership

Legislative authority is often required to implement executive policy proposals. To achieve implementation, the Governor has substantial constitutional, statutory and other less-formal resources. The Governor not only has influence with legislators and with the public, but he or she also has constitutional authority to convene and specify the agenda of special legislative sessions. Via messages of necessity, the Governor also has the power to clear bills for consideration. With those powers, the Governor has a key role in establishing the agenda for decision making and in shaping those decisions. The Governor serves as a public leader as well as the chief administrator of the State of New York.

Executive Control

The State Constitution provides that “the executive power shall be vested in the Governor,” who “shall take care that the laws are faithfully executed.” [7] The Constitution also empowers the Governor to appoint and remove the heads of most state agencies and to propose the budget. These provisions form the basis for gubernatorial direction of state activities.

The executive budget is perhaps the strongest managerial tool that the Constitution provides the Governor. Since 1927, Article VII of the New York Constitution has conferred on the Governor initial responsibility for proposing to the Legislature a coherent statewide plan for government spending. Under this system, the State’s budget originated with the Governor, and he or she must submit to the Legislature proposed legislation, including “appropriation bills,” to put his or her proposed budget into effect. The Legislature may not alter an appropriation bill the Governor has submitted, except to strike out or reduce items. The Legislature may, however, add items of appropriation, provided that each such item is stated separately and distinctly from the original items and that each refer to a single object or purpose. “Such an appropriation bill shall when passed by both houses be a law immediately without further action by the governor, except that separate items added to the governor’s bills by the legislature shall be subject to [the governor’s line-item veto].” Gubernatorial direction over administrative agencies centers in the Division of the Budget, which both recommends to the Governor how much state agencies should be allowed in appropriations, and exercises considerable authority over how agencies spend the funds appropriated by the Legislature. The Governor’s specific constitutional powers for administrative control, however, are not extensive and do not include complete administrative and managerial powers. Constitutionally, the Governor does not control the entire executive branch. Both the State Comptroller and the Attorney General are popularly elected, and the Legislature chooses the Regents of the University of the State of New York, who supervise the Education Department. The Governor primarily concentrates on policy, and focuses gubernatorial administrative attention on overall direction.

Sovereign Responsibilities

The Governor has power to grant reprieves, commutations and pardons after conviction for all offenses except treason or in cases of impeachment. The Governor also may remove certain local officials, particularly those concerned with law enforcement, and may appoint certain judges and local officials to complete terms in some cases and to fill vacancies pending election in others. Finally, the Governor is commander-in-chief of the state’s military and naval forces.


The Governor must be a citizen of the United States, not less than 30 years old, and must have resided in the state for at least five years at the time of election.


If the Governor dies, resigns or is removed from office, the Lieutenant Governor becomes Governor and, upon succession to the office, the Governor may fill the vacancy created in the office of Lieutenant Governor by appointment.[8] If the Governor is absent from the state, under impeachment, or is otherwise unable to discharge the duties of the office, the Lieutenant Governor acts as Governor until the inability ceases. The Temporary President of the Senate and the Speaker of the Assembly are next in the line of succession, respectively.

Lieutenant Governor

The Constitution assigns the Lieutenant Governor only the role of serving as President of the Senate. The Governor and the Legislature may, however, make other assignments, and traditionally Governors have turned to the Lieutenant Governor for various kinds of help, ceremonial and otherwise.

State Comptroller

The State Comptroller is the state’s chief fiscal officer. The Office of the State Comptroller: maintains accounts and makes payments on behalf of the State; audits the finances and management of state agencies, New York City and public authorities; examines the fiscal affairs of local governments; provides fiscal legal advice to both state agencies and local governments; trains local officials in fiscal matters; and administers the State’s retirement systems. The State Comptroller’s Office publishes a wide range of materials on fiscal matters, including annual reports on state and local government finances, as well as an annual volume of legal opinions on local government operations.

Attorney General

The Attorney General is the state’s chief legal officer. The Office of the Attorney General prosecutes and defends actions and proceedings for and against the state, and defends the constitutionality of state law. Local government legal officers may obtain informal, written Opinions from the Attorney General. These Opinions, while not binding on the local government, are nonetheless extremely useful, and are given great weight by the courts. The Attorney General’s responsibilities also include supervising the Organized Crime Task Force; protecting consumers against fraud; safeguarding civil rights and the rights of workers; the condemning property; and collecting debts. Specialized bureaus handle: criminal prosecutions, antitrust cases, investor protection, environmental protection, consumer fraud and protection, civil rights, worker protection, regulation of cooperative and condominium housing, charities, and trusts and estate matters.

State Agencies

The State Constitution provides that there shall be no more than 20 civil departments in the state government. These departments previously were specified by name, but the Constitution was amended in 1961 to eliminate the specification of departments and to set the maximum number of departments at 20.

The Legislature is authorized by law to assign new powers and functions to departments, offices, boards, commissions or executive offices of the Governor, and to increase, modify or diminish such powers and functions. The Legislature is further authorized to create temporary commissions for special purposes or executive “offices” in the Executive Department. Numerous state agencies fall into the latter two categories — that is, temporary commissions and “offices” in the Executive Department. Generally speaking, the heads of all departments, boards and commissions (except the State Comptroller, Attorney General and the members of the Board of Regents) must be appointed by the Governor with the advice and consent of the Senate, and may be removed by the Governor in a manner prescribed by law. Another exception involves the authority of the Board of Regents to appoint and remove the Commissioner of Education.

A final exception is the Commissioner of the Department of Agriculture and Markets. The Constitution provides that this department head shall be appointed as provided by law, which presently provides for the Governor to make this appointment, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate.[9] While this manner of appointment is consistent with the general manner of appointment of department heads, the Governor’s appointment power is statutory rather than constitutional.

The administrative structure of New York State government currently consists of 20 state departments and a great number of other agencies, such as public authorities, temporary state commissions, and various divisions and offices in the Executive Department. Each department and agency has been established for a particular purpose, and each functions in a particular way and within a legally prescribed area of operation. Each department directly or indirectly affects local governments of the state in terms of jurisdictional or regulatory authority, advisory services, aid programs and other related functions, depending on its program responsibilities.

Some state agencies were created in response to federal mandates requiring that a particular type of statewide agency handle a particular program. Pressures from within the state for new agencies to furnish specialized services led to the establishment of other agencies. The relationships between these agencies and local governments in the provision of public services are discussed [public_services#public_services].

1. State Law § 123.
2. Please note that a concurrent resolution proposing an amendment to the State Constitution on legislative redistricting is now being considered. Article III, § 5-b is a proposed Constitutional Amendment that would authorize an Independent Redistricting Commission composed of 10 appointed members who would determine the district lines for congressional and state legislative offices. The proposal has been passed by the Legislature in 2012 by bill A.9526 and in 2013 by bill A.2086 and will become law if approved by vote of the people in November 2014.
3. N.Y.S. Constitution, Article III, §14; see also Public Officers Law, §3.
4. See N.Y.S. Constitution, Article VII; Public Officers Law, §3.
5. N.Y.S. Constitution, Article III, § 7.
6. N.Y.S. Constitution, Article IV, § 3.
7. N.Y.S. Constitution, Article III, §2; see also Public Officers Law, §3.
8. See Skelos v. Paterson, 13 N.Y.3d 141 (N.Y. 2009).
9. N.Y.S. Agriculture and Markets Law § 5.

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