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New York Democrats Gain Veto-Proof Majority in State Senate

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. Photo: LightRocket via Getty Images

Democrats in the New York State Senate declared a supermajority on Monday, saying that they have won enough seats to secure veto-proof control of the state Legislature. Occupying 42 seats in the 63-member Senate and 103 seats in the state Assembly, Democratic lawmakers now have the ability to push legislation over Governor Andrew Cuomo’s objections, a power they could use to pass pandemic-related eviction protections and pump money into the state’s $14 billion budget deficit by increasing taxes on the wealthy and legalizing recreational marijuana.

While the absentee ballot count is ongoing, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said that Democrats, who went into the race with a 40-23 advantage over Republicans, had flipped the two seats needed to gain a two-thirds supermajority in the 63-seat chamber. “By sending a supermajority of Senate Democrats to Albany, New Yorkers have made it clear that they want government to keep working for them and standing up for New York values,” Stewart-Cousins said at a news conference in Albany on Monday.

The victory builds on strides New York Democrats made in 2018, when the party won control of the state Senate after years of Republican rule. (Democrats have had a supermajority in the state Assembly for two decades.) The simple majority secured in 2018’s race required lawmakers to win Cuomo’s support for any measures they passed. But now, with the two-thirds party line vote needed to overturn the governor’s veto, legislative leaders have the ability to break with the centrist governor, which gives Democrats enhanced negotiating power in Albany.

The Democrats’ veto-proof supermajority changes the balance of power ahead of next year’s legislative agenda, which is set by Cuomo and includes the legalization of recreational marijuana and mobile sports betting. Senate Democrats have proposed a measure that would reinvest some of the new revenue generated by marijuana into places that have disproportionately suffered from criminal anti-drug laws, while also directing some of the funds to drug treatment programs. Earlier this month, Cuomo said he expects New York lawmakers to finally legalize marijuana in 2021 “because the state is going to be desperate for funding.” Legalizing mobile sports gambling, another long-stalled issue that may see movement in Albany, could also be a way to shore up revenue for the state. Cuomo has previously opposed online sports betting, but the newly empowered Legislature —and New York’s projected $59 billion revenue shortfall through 2022 — could push the proposal through.

Issues exacerbated by the coronavirus crisis, such as taxes and housing, will also be front and center when the Legislature reconvenes in January. With a supermajority, Democratic lawmakers could push proposals to raise taxes on the wealthy, a way to boost New York’s finances amid a $14.5 billion pandemic-induced shortfall in revenue this year that doesn’t require waiting for the federal government’s help. Housing relief proposals include eliminating the rent and mortgage payments of some homeowners while New York is in a state of emergency, plus 90 days — as well as an act that would protect residential and commercial tenants from eviction and foreclosure filings throughout the pandemic and for an additional year after.

Democrats could also use their new supermajority to boost power for years to come. The 2022 redistricting process will involve redrawing all state legislative and congressional districts, a once-a-decade shake-up that last occurred when Republicans controlled the chamber. In 2011, the GOP drew lines “to maximize the chances of their party winning enough state Senate seats to remain in power, using tactics like fragmenting cities and blue areas, while concentrating reliable GOP voters in other districts,” The City reports. While Democrats will have full control over the redistricting process — the makeup of the Legislature sometimes requires minority-party support to change district lines, but not with a supermajority — Stewart-Cousins pledged to “do the right thing,” compared to the GOP-led process in 2011. “I believe that we will be able to draw up lines that are, you know, contiguous and rational, and still be able to achieve a Democratic majority,” she told The City.

New York Democrats Gain Veto-Proof Majority in State Senate