We must strengthen Home Rule for NYC and other cities in our State.
What is Home Rule?
Under our current NY State constitution, localities are granted Home Rule. This means that cities like NYC, Buffalo, Syracuse, and more have the right to make their own legislative decisions relating to “property, affairs, or government” (NY State Constitution, Article IX, section 2c). The State legislature is not allowed to interfere in this without a formal request from the locality. In theory, this gives local governments the power to do what’s best for the people in their areas, since they know the issues facing their communities better than legislators who live on the other side of the state.
So What’s the Problem?
There are a few ways for the State to get around this, making the State government (which, reminder, is the most corrupt in the U.S.1 Congratulations, New York, You’re #1 in Corruption – Politico) able to wield its power over localities despite the Home Rule provision. It mostly centers on a court decision, Adler v. Deegan2 ADLER V. DEEGAN – Casetext.com, from 1929 (30 years before the current 1963 Home Rule clause was even put in our Constitution), in which the Chief Justice declared that the State can legislate on a local matter if it has “substantial State concern.”
NOTE: This is a very nuanced and complicated issue that we’re attempting to water down for consumption here. But if you want to read all the nitty-gritty details, give this Pace Law Review report a read.
How Does This Lack of Home Rule Affect NYC?
There are dozens of examples of how NYC suffers from not being able to rule itself.
- The MTA — by now, we all know the story here. NYC subway riders pay an ever-increasing fare to ride the subways, but our local government has no say3 Where Does Your Fare Go? Increasingly, To Pay Off MTA Debt – StreetsBlog NYC on where that money goes or how the MTA is funded. The State has repeatedly taken away or diminished our funding, giving it to other things in the State4 Gov. Cuomo’s MTA capital repair funds for new subway cars redirected to other projects – NY Daily News that have nothing to do with the NYC residents who pay the price of a crumbling commuter system.
- Housing — NYC doesn’t have the power to control its own rising rents without offering ineffective tax breaks to super-wealthy housing developers, who line their pockets at the expense of hard-working New York families. Read more on our HOUSING page.
- Taxes — Cities like New York, Buffalo, and others lack the power to tax its residents. In the wake of 9/11, when NYC was facing a $6 billion-dollar deficit, it desperately needed to enact a tax package to bring in additional revenue for the cleanup and rebuilding. But it wasn’t able to do that without fighting with Albany first. A more recent squabble occurred “Plastic bag tax,”5 New York State Senate Votes Down NYC Plastic Bag Fee – Gothamist a 5-cent charge NYC wanted to add every time a patron of a store took home their goods in a non-reusable bag. This measure had high support — environmentalists estimated it would immensely reduce the amount of plastic in NYC’s overflowing landfills, while also giving additional revenue to the City. However, the State government shot it down.
- Public Education — Funding and managing our NYC public schools lies in the hands of the State, not the City. The Mayor has to repeatedly ask the state for permission to have a say in how our public schools run6 Mayor de Blasio Waits (and Waits) for a New Mandate to Run New York’s Schools – New York Times, often fighting State lawmakers who favor charter schools and use this power as a political bargaining chip.
There’s plenty more where that came from. But what if you don’t live in NYC? Syracuse7 Can Syracuse block a city-county merger? Yes, city says, but the issue is murky – Syracuse.com, Buffalo8 The State-Local Paradox: Home Rule and State Mandates – Rockefeller Institute, and other cities throughout the state can benefit from Home Rule as well.
That 1963 revision of the Home Rule law was intended to give local governments more power to govern themselves. However, due to all the loopholes and workarounds, this hasn’t happened. We need to rethink and revise our Home Rule clause to ensure it has its intended effect, and give New York’s cities and municipalities the power to address their own most pressing problems.
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