Letter: Redistricting Panel Formally Asks State to Release its Funding
A panel tasked with drawing new legislative districts for members of Congress and the state Legislature still hasn’t received the funding allocated to it in this year’s state budget, approved in April, and it’s now formally asking the Cuomo administration to release that money.
Members of the Independent Redistricting Commission, enshrined in the state constitution six years ago, said Thursday that its work is being delayed by the setback.
In a letter expected to be sent to the Cuomo administration and leaders from the state Legislature Thursday, the commission formally asked that its funding be released so it can move forward with setting up its staff and infrastructure, including office space and equipment.
"The commissioners of the [commission] respectfully request the appropriations allocated to the commission be released for the commission to fulfill the work that is required as stated in the New York State Constitution,” the letter said.
The full text of the letter was read Thursday during a public meeting of the commission, which has met a handful of times in recent months to begin its work. That’s been difficult without its funding, according to Jack Martins, a former state senator and member of the commission.
"This is a requirement in the state constitution and it takes on a certain gravitas, and I'm obviously a bit upset by the fact that they have wholesale chosen to ignore their responsibilities,” said Martins, who was appointed by Republicans to the panel.
There was unanimous consent among the members of the commission to send the letter. Martins predicted that — if the correspondence was not met with a response from the Cuomo administration — legal action may be necessary.
“This has risen to the level of being unconstitutional,” Martins said.
Other members of the commission agreed that the funding should be released as soon as possible, but said the conflict may not necessarily be ripe for judicial review.
“It is my hope that we would not have to engage in any legal action, that the state government will engage with us and help us to start the job we are meant to do, and that we will not be prevented from doing our work and being responsive to New Yorkers,” said Ivelisse Cuevas-Molina, another member of the commission.
Cuomo and the state Legislature allocated $750,000 in funding for the commission in this year’s state budget, which was approved in April. That funding was sent to the state Department of State, which has withheld that money from the panel.
The commission has since hired two executive directors to manage its work, as required by law, but neither have been able to get paid because of the delay in funding, according to members of the panel.
It’s unclear if the commission will receive the full $750,000 or if its funding will be reduced as part of a series of withholdings from the Cuomo administration in the last several months to curb the state’s budget deficit.
A spokesman for the state Division of Budget said the agency's attorneys are reviewing, exactly, how to fund the commission in concert with the Legislature.
“Counsel are reviewing the appropriation which limits how the state may pay directly for commission expenses, including employees, and we are working with the Legislature for a resolution," the spokesman said.
Lost tax revenue coupled with direct cost of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic has landed New York in a fiscal crisis, with a projected budget gap north of $10 billion heading into next year.
In a deal struck as part of the state budget this year, the Cuomo administration was given power to withhold funding, and cut where necessary, to balance the state’s finances.