Government of New York

As in all 50 states, the head of the executive branch of the government of New York is a Governor. The legislative branch is called the Legislature and consists of a Senate and an Assembly. Unlike most states, New York electoral law permits electoral fusion; thus New York ballots tend to show a larger number of parties. Some are permanent minor parties that seek to influence the major parties while others are ephemeral parties formed to give major-party candidates an additional line on the ballot.



New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York State Governor David Paterson (2008).

New York's legislative process is notoriously cumbersome and problematic.[1] The Assembly has long been controlled by the Democrats, the Senate by the Republicans, and there was little change in membership in elections until those of 2008. As a result, decisions are taken when "three men in a room" - the Senate Majority Leader, the Speaker of the Assembly, and the Governor - agree.[2] From 1984 through 2004, no budget was passed on time, and for many years the legislature was unable to pass legislation for which there was supposed to be a consensus, such as reforming the so-called Rockefeller drug laws.

The state has a strong imbalance of payments with the federal government. New York State receives 82 cents in services for every $1 it sends to Washington in taxes. The state ranks near the bottom, in 42nd place, in federal spending per tax dollar.

In 2002, 16,892 bills were introduced in the New York legislature, more than twice as many as in the Illinois General Assembly, whose members are the second most prolific. Of those bills, only 4% (693) actually became law, the lowest passing percentage in the country. In 2004, over 17,000 bills were introduced.

New York's legislature also has more paid staff (3,428) than any other legislature in the nation. Pennsylvania, whose staff is the second largest, only has 2,947, and California only 2,359. New York's legislature also has more committees than any other legislature in the nation.

New York's subordinate political units are its 62 counties, most of which are subdivided into towns. Incorporated municipal governmental units are cities and villages.

Many of New York's public services are carried out by public benefit corporations, frequently known as authorities or development corporations. The most famous examples are probably the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which oversees New York City's subway and suburban commuter transportation, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (actually a bi-state agency). Some of New York's public benefit corporations have come under fire in recent years. The New York Times, for instance, has come to see many of them as obsolete and wasteful, even going so far as to refer to them as a shadow government. Far from unique to New York State, and actually fairly common in English-speaking countries, public benefit corporations give the state the opportunity to carry out economic goals and infrastructure maintenance while making risky investments that don't put the state's credit on the line.

For decades, it has been the established practice for the state to pass legislation for some meritorious project, but then mandate county and municipal government to actually pay for it. New York State has its counties pay a higher percentage of welfare costs than any other state, and New York State is the only state which requires counties to pay a portion of Medicaid.

Court system

The court system in New York tends to produce mild confusion for outsiders. As in Maryland and the District of Columbia, the highest court is called "Court of Appeals" instead of "Supreme Court." Instead of the trial court being called "Superior Court," the New York court system labels the trial court "Supreme Court." In fact, "superior" and "supreme" are variations on the same theme. In the original Latin, "supreme" (supremo/-a) means "uppermost" or "highest," while "superior" can mean either "upper"/"higher" or "uppermost" / "highest" (hence, "Lake Superior," so named by the French because it is the uppermost or highest of the Great Lakes not because it is the largest lake, although that is the case).

In naming its trial courts, New York simply chose "supreme" instead of "superior." (Some states, such as Michigan and Hawaii, use the term "circuit court" instead of "superior".) The consternation this causes for non-New Yorkers arises from the fact that most superior courts are no longer truly "superior," as much as it does from most states reserving "supreme" for their highest appellate court. That is, historically, county superior courts - like New York's county supreme courts - were the highest level of trial court, overseeing a network of inferior trial courts (e.g., municipal courts, recorder's courts, courts of referees and commissioners, etc.,), the decisions of which could be appealed within the trial court system to the superior court. Most states have long-since consolidated their inferior trial courts, however, so that they now have just the one trial court - the superior, circuit or supreme court.

New York's intermediate appellate court, between the New York State Supreme Courts (county by county) and the New York Court of Appeals, is the New York State Supreme Court - Appellate Division. Local courts in towns and villages are called Justice Courts. These courts are the starting point for all criminal cases outside cities, and handle a variety of other matters including small claims, traffic ticket cases and local zoning matters. Along with the unusual names for the courts, judges in Supreme Court and the Justice Courts are called Justices, while on the Court of Appeals (and in other courts such as Family Court, County Court, and Surrogates Court), they are called Judges.

Political divisions

Those living outside of cities and Indian reservations in New York State automatically live inside towns.[3] (called "townships" in many other states).[citation needed] Towns, which are county divisions in New York State[citation needed] with governments of their own,[4] can also contain villages,[5] which are roughly comparable to what is thought of as a town in most of the United States;[citation needed] that is, villages are small incorporated municipalities[6] with limited taxation powers.[citation needed] Towns in New York State, on the other hand, are organizationally more like New England townships.[citation needed] In 1898, when New York City was consolidated into its present form, all previous town and county governments within it were abolished in favor of the present five boroughs and unified, centralized city government.[7]


New York State has consistently supported Democratic candidates in federal elections. Presidential candidate John Kerry won New York State by 18 percentage points in 2004, while Al Gore won by an even bigger margin in New York State in 2000. Bill Clinton twice scored his third best performance in New York. In 2000, the state gave Al Gore his second highest total. Many of the state's other urban areas, including Albany, Ithaca, Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse are also Democratic. However, upstate New York, especially in rural areas, is generally more conservative than the cities and tends to vote Republican. Heavily populated suburban areas such as Westchester County and Long Island have swung between the major parties over the past 25 years, and often have local races that are tightly contested.

New York State has consistently voted Democratic in national elections. However, New York City has been the most important source of political fund-raising in the United States for both major parties. Four of the top five zip codes in the nation for political contributions are in Manhattan. The top zip code, 10021 on the Upper East Side, generated the most money for the 2000 presidential campaigns of both George Bush and Al Gore. Republican Presidential candidates have often skipped campaigning in the state, taking it as a loss and focusing on vital swing states.

See also


  1. ^ New Report: New York’s Legislative Process Most Dysfunctional In Nation
  2. ^ Three men in a room
  3. ^ "Local Government Handbook - Town Government" (PDF). New York State Department of State. 2008. pp. 63–70. Retrieved 2009-03-29. 
  4. ^ "Local Government Handbook" (PDF). New York State Department of State. 2008, 5th edition. pp. PDF page 66. Retrieved July 5, 2009. 
  5. ^ "Detailed Census Bureau map of New York". 2000. pp. "p. 4; Note the towns of Champlain (Clinton County), Chateaugay (Franklin County), and Bellmont (Franklin County)". Retrieved 2009-06-13. 
  6. ^ "Local Government Handbook - Local Government Home Rule Power" (PDF). New York State Department of State. 2008, 5th edition. pp. PDF page 35. Retrieved 2009-06-22. 
  7. ^ "Local Government Handbook - New York City" (PDF). New York State Department of State. 2008, 5th edition. pp. PDF pages 60–62. Retrieved 2009-06-22. 

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