ALBANY — In his proposed budget for next year, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has inserted language that would allow him to move money between state agencies without legislative approval.
He has included a clause that would allow him to give out some contracts without the customary review of the state comptroller. And he added another provision that some budget experts fear could expand his authority to borrow money for construction projects.
Riding high after a string of successes during his first year in office, Mr. Cuomo is now taking an expansive, and expanding, view of the role of governor, in the name of reining in the state’s sprawling bureaucracy.
But even some of Mr. Cuomo’s fellow Democrats are raising questions about what they view as a power grab. And suddenly a staple of civics class — the notion of checks and balances between different branches of government — is the talk of the Capitol.
“I think many of us, including myself, feel that there is overreaching proceeding down the path by our new governor, and that it is ultimately not healthy for there to be excessive power in the executive branch, even though he’s popular,” said Assemblyman James F. Brennan, a Democrat of Brooklyn.
Within the last two weeks, the Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, and the Senate majority leader, Dean G. Skelos, a Republican, both criticized Mr. Cuomo’s administration for a pact that allowed the state inspector general to see the tax returns of state employees. The state comptroller, Thomas P. DiNapoli, a Democrat, offered a broader critique, raising questions about proposals that his office said “would give the executive greater powers that would reduce long-established checks and balances.”
Cuomo didn't dispute the assertion that he is grabbing more power for himself. He didn't apologize either. Rather he said he is making government "more efficient" by taking powers granted legally to the legislature for himself.
In other words, he is going to make the trains run on time.
This isn't the only power grab Cuomo has made, of course:
At the Capitol, concerns about Mr. Cuomo’s maneuvers have escalated over the past year, even as he has used a combination of charm, intimidation and strategic skill to push his agenda through a change-averse Legislature.
He offered an all-or-nothing proposition with his first budget last year: Lawmakers could accept his plan or he would impose it through emergency spending measures. (They accepted it.)
He also made waves by merging the state insurance and banking departments to create what skeptics have viewed as his own attorney general’s office — the State Department of Financial Services. The governor initially sought to give that agency sweeping investigatory powers that some experts said could have made it more powerful than the attorney general’s office, but he ultimately scaled back his proposal.
Much of the concern over Mr. Cuomo’s latest budget proposal has focused on provisions that would increase his office’s authority over financial matters — a provocative move in part because New York’s Constitution already gives the governor significant power in deciding how the state spends its money.
For example, a 130-word paragraph sprinkled hundreds of times throughout the budget would allow the governor to move appropriations between state agencies after the Legislature had approved the state spending plan. Mr. Cuomo’s budget office said the clause would allow the state to consolidate back-office services like purchasing and information technology more easily, saving hundreds of millions of dollars over the next few years.
Mr. Cuomo is also proposing to strip the comptroller’s office of the power to review some state contracts before they are approved. And he is seeking to allow public authorities to transfer funds among themselves; lawmakers said that could have the effect of allowing, for example, revenues from the New York Power Authority to be used to pay for rising construction costs at the World Trade Center.
Richard L. Brodsky, a former Democratic assemblyman who wrote legislation to improve accountability of the state’s public authorities, said the provision would undo safeguards that lawmakers had put in place with some difficulty.
“It goes to the heart of the reform efforts that took six years, three governors and two attorneys general to get done, and it’s extremely important,” Mr. Brodsky said.
To Cuomo, what is important is taking power for himself, disempowering others in the process, and advancing his own agenda and his own career ambitions.
This is what he did to teachers this week by pushing through an evaluation deal that turns over the intents of the Race to the Top law passed by the legislature and agreed to by the unions back in 2010.
This is what he is doing to the legislature by subsuming more power into the executive.
Judging by the poll numbers, New Yorkers are cheering Cuomo's dictatorial power grabs - at least for now.
But dictators often come to bad ends - even the ones who get the trains to run on time.