Cuomo sees enhanced role for states

Source: By Colin A Young, Sentinel & Enterprise • Posted: Thursday, August 6, 2020

FILE- In this Jan. 29, 2019 file photo, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo holds a news conference in the Red Room at the state Capitol in Albany, N.Y. Cuomo says he’s directing state health officials to ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes, citing the risk of young people getting addicted to nicotine. The Democrat announced Sunday, Sept. 15 that the state health commissioner would be making a recommendation this week to the state Public Health and Health Planning Council. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink, File)

BOSTON – Having already taken the lead in the coronavirus pandemic response and economic rebound in the United States, it is time for Gov. Charlie Baker and other state executives to “reformulate and redefine” the partnership between states and the federal government, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday as he took over as chair of the National Governors Association.

“There are checks and balances and there is a federal and state dynamic tension that was written into the Constitution. But there has never been a moment where state governments have been more instrumental in the lives of the people of this country,” Cuomo said as he declared “America’s recovery and revival” as the NGA’s agenda for his year in the chair. “State governments are now at the forefront and it is a new chapter in the governance of this country. This coming year, states will not only be laboratories of democracy, we will also be the engines of economic renewal and we will also be the innovators of a new public health system institutionalizing what we’ve learned.”

He added, “There is tremendous possibility in the nation’s recognition of the full potential of state governments.”

If Cuomo intends to reshape the relationship between states and the federal government, Baker figures to play a role in that process. The Massachusetts Republican was re-elected Wednesday to serve another year on the NGA’s Executive Committee, which the organization said “has general authority over all policy issues and primary jurisdiction over issues involving federalism, homeland security, the federal budget and federal tax policy.” Baker is one of nine governors — including Cuomo and new NGA Vice Chair Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas — on the executive committee.

Baker, who largely eschews national political attention, frequently collaborates with other governors and often says that conversations with peers around the country introduce him to new ideas, new ways of doing things and, ultimately, could benefit Massachusetts.

Cuomo, a Democrat who has held the corner office in Albany since 2011, assumed leadership of the NGA from Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican who took office in 2015. In his farewell remarks as chair, Hogan said governors stepped in when the federal government was slow to react to the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic and, as a result, the NGA “is more relevant and more effective than it has ever been before.”

“We have worked across party lines together and when it really mattered, we have spoken with a unified voice,” Hogan said. “We successfully pushed for Title 32 funding to support the National Guard’s COVID-19 response missions, we convinced the federal administration to invoke the Defense Production Act to produce ventilators and swabs and to make more life-saving supplies available to the states, we achieved greater flexibility in federal CARES Act funding to sustain critical response efforts on the front lines.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in March, Baker repeatedly turned to interstate cooperation in the face of an obstinant federal government to procure personal protective equipment and medical supplies, to establish a regional framework for reopening the economy, and to facilitate more rapid COVID-19 testing.

When the federal government supplied a fraction of the ventilators Massachusetts said it needed, Baker spoke with Cuomo and the Empire State, which was seeing cases decline as Massachusetts hit its surge in April, made 400 ventilators available to Massachusetts within 24 hours. Baker’s story about the confiscation of his order of 3 million masks influenced Hogan in his efforts to procure COVID-19 testing supplies from South Korea without federal aid.

“I think the most important lesson we’ve learned over the course of the past five months in battling this pandemic is that global supply chains between private companies have trouble surviving when there’s scarcity and nation-states competing for those goods and services,” Baker said in a short video the NGA posted ahead of Wednesday’s meeting in which the governor was asked three questions.

In April, Baker joined a multi-state council that sought to coordinate a regional approach to reopening the economy as individual states started to come down from their peaks of COVID-19 infection. He tapped his chief of staff and economic development secretary to serve on the panel with officials from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware and Pennsylvania.

In early May, those same states banded together to form a regional consortium to jointly find and purchase personal protective equipment, COVID-19 tests, ventilators and other medical equipment.

And on Tuesday, Hogan’s office announced that Massachusetts is one of seven states entering formal talks with manufacturers in hopes of facilitating rapid point-of-care COVID-19 tests that could more quickly detect outbreaks in workplaces, schools and congregate care settings. Plans call for each state to purchase 500,000 tests.

Whether it’s through the NGA, another organization or just between governors, Baker had shown an inclination throughout his five pandemic-free years in office to work with state executives regardless of political stripe on significant issues. Before he was even sworn in as governor, he attended the inauguration of Raimondo, a Democrat. She returned the favor a few days later.

In 2016, Baker and 42 other governors agreed through an NGA compact on a number of steps, including some that were already underway in Massachusetts, to reduce addiction to opioids. In 2018, Baker joined the governors of Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island in a gun safety coalition.

Baker was one of 18 governors who, as part of the Governors’ Wind & Solar Energy Coalition, urged the federal government in 2018 to take a serious look at stitching together the three main United States power grids to make the nation’s overall electric network more resilient, reliable and less vulnerable to cyber attacks.