New York governors lack clear authority to make unilateral midyear spending cuts that could help future executives address fiscal crises, according to a report released last week by the Rockefeller Institute of Government.

“Legislation and/or constitutional amendment could usefully clarify the status of this existing gubernatorial power,” Robert Ward, the institute’s deputy director, said in a press release. “Extending such authority beyond agency operations would enhance the state’s ability to deal effectively with coming budget gaps and avoid further shifting of current costs into the future.”

In response to the current fiscal crisis, Gov. David Paterson has made cuts to state agencies and delayed  aid to school districts, an act that has been challenged in a pending court case. According to the Rockefeller report, it’s unclear what actions the governor is permitted to take.

A 1980 state Court of Appeals ruling — Oneida v. Berle — said the office has no express or inherent power to impound funds that have been appropriated by the Legislature.

However, there has been a tacit understanding that lawmakers will allow the governor to reduce spending on state agency operations, the report said.

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