Dems consider budget benefits of rescinding Cuomo pandemic powers amid nursing home uproar

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Denis Slattery, New York Daily News
·3 min read
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ALBANY — The governor’s fellow Democrats, who control both houses in the Legislature, continued to hold discussions throughout the weekend about potentially scaling back Cuomo’s sweeping pandemic powers after a top aide admitted the state paused the release of nursing home death data over concerns it would be politicized by the Trump administration.

Senate Dems met virtually Sunday to consider rescinding the governor’s executive authority or potentially creating a commission that could outright reject executive orders, similar to a 10-member panel used in Connecticut, sources said.

The Legislature already has the ability to overturn any COVID-related executive order via a majority vote.

On Friday, 14 Democratic state senators, including a handful from the city, joined Republicans in backing the idea of taking away Cuomo’s emergency powers before they expire in April.

However, some in the majority said it would be better to hold off on acting until budget negotiations begin, a move they believe would give the Legislature a leg up on policy proposals and other priorities ahead of the April 1 deadline, according to people familiar with the conversations.

“There was talk of how this all could impact budget talks,” said one Democratic lawmaker. “It could make things very interesting.”

Republicans, meanwhile, have ratcheted up their calls for action, backing not only immediately stripping Cuomo of his emergency powers, but also issuing subpoenas to state officials, holding legislative hearings, and some even floating impeachment.

“The Legislature has a responsibility to the thousands of families who weren’t afforded a week off from the loss and suffering they experienced,” Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay (R-Oswego) said Sunday. “Inaction this week would be inexcusable.”

Barclay and others have spent months demanding subpoenas, hearings or a federal probe into the state’s nursing home policies amid the pandemic.

As for holding off on acting in order to influence budget talks, the legally dubious maneuver could backfire on Dems, one Albany insider said.

“It could legally be seen as extortion,” the source said.

Representatives for the governor did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Cuomo administration came under renewed fire last week, facing accusations of a coverup and mounting backlash over its failure to release a full count of nursing home deaths for nearly six months.

In a call meant to bridge a growing divide with fellow Dems, the governor’s most trusted confidant, Melissa DeRosa, told lawmakers that officials “froze” last year when the Department of Justice made an inquiry into elder care facilities.

DeRosa said the administration stonewalled legislative requests and failed to include nursing home residents who died in hospitals in publicly available data because President Trump had turned the matter “into a giant political football.”

The call came two weeks after a report from Attorney General Letitia James estimated that the state was under-counting deaths of nursing home residents by as much as 50%.

That prompted Health Commissioner Howard Zucker to finally release figures showing the true total was 12,743 as of Jan. 19, a number that for the first time included residents who died in hospitals and increased the official death count by 4,000.

That number grew again to 13,297 last week, according to a letter Zucker sent to lawmakers in response to questions posed last summer.