Lieutenant Governor Reforms are Needed

April 14, 2008

Assemblyman Robin Schimminger is the chief architect of a proposed amendment to the New York State Constitution (A.3121) that would provide for the filling of a vacancy in the office of lieutenant governor, create a mechanism to allow the lieutenant governor to assume gubernatorial powers when a governor is unable to discharge his or her responsibilities, and establish that a governor remains a governor even when absent from the state.

"With the recent resignation of former Governor Spitzer and succession of Lieutenant Governor Paterson to the position of governor, we are left with a vacancy in the lieutenant governor’s office until the next gubernatorial election in 2010," said Schimminger. "A vacancy in the office of lieutenant governor puts a strain on the executive chamber, as there is no individual whose sole purpose is to be the lieutenant governor and assume those responsibilities fully."

Specifically, the amendment would provide that a vacancy in the office of the lieutenant governor would be filled by a person appointed by the governor and confirmed by a majority vote of both houses of the Legislature sitting together.

The concurrent resolution framing the constitutional amendment must be passed by two separately elected state legislatures and then submitted to the voters as a referendum before it can revise Article 4 of the current New York State Constitution. In addition to setting forth procedures for the filling a vacancy in the office of the lieutenant governor, the amendment would repeal the "absence clause" and allow the governor to remain governor even if he or she travels outside the borders of New York State and would put in place a procedure allowing the lieutenant governor to assume the governor’s powers if the governor were unable to discharge his or her responsibilities for reasons such as ill health or disability.

"While the ‘absence clause’ was designed to free the governor from unnecessary restraints, in some of the states that have a similar provision it has become a restraining order, actually decreasing gubernatorial mobility. There have been more than a few instances where governors who had been feuding with their next-in-line either chose not to leave their states and turn over the reins of power or, if they did, returned home to find their next-in-line had taken official actions contrary to the governors’ wishes," the Assemblyman observed.

"The constitution clearly states that if the governor is ‘absent from the state,’ the lieutenant governor becomes acting governor. However, just as the president remains president when he leaves the United States, the governor should remain the governor wherever he or she goes," Schimminger explained. "The constitutional provision that the lieutenant governor becomes acting governor when the governor is outside the state’s borders is an anachronism. It may have made sense centuries ago when modes of communication and transportation were relatively primitive, but in the present age of instant communication and jet transportation, this stipulation is no longer needed."

"There is no partisan or political gain intended by this measure, nor does it reward any special interest group. This proposed amendment deals simply with good government and ensuring that the people of the State of New York have an orderly and rational framework of governance and gubernatorial succession," concluded Schimminger.