State and Local Government
State and Local Government

"All Politics is Local"

-Associated Press Bureau Chief, Byron Price, 1932

In New York State, local government is a creation of the State, even though the municipal structures, and some municipalities pre-date the State Constitution.  The State Constitution tries to balance the supremecy of the State, with the autonomy and home rule of local governments, and establishes a bill of rights for local governments which protect them from the overreaching powers of the State.

While the existence of local governments are not typically questioned, there are many elements of the governing of local governments that are constitutional questions.  For example, the State of New York is divided into counties, cities, towns, and villages.  Each one of these local governments has certain rights, and are governened locally by elected representatives.  The structures of the governments varries between governments of the same type almost as much as it does with governments of a different type, with each local government defining its own structure.  These structures are vestiges of the colonial era, and when restructuring local government in New York is discussed, the viability of these structures in the modern era is often questioned, and more rational and efficient models proposed.  In order to restructure local governments outside of the paradigm that the State Constitution prescribes, constitutional change is necessary.  Simply put, the structure, and powers of local governments are a constitutional issue because their structure and powers is enumerated in the Constitution.


Initially dealt with through particular actions, over time local governments came to be the subject of general law, and achieved some capacity to govern themselves. The state constitution was not amended to include home rule for cities until 1924.[1] The current Home Rule provisions in the constitution’s Article IX were adopted by amendment in 1963.  According the a recently-published, authoritative annotated version of the NYS constitution, grants of power to and restrictions on general purpose local government in the state constitution now fall into four categories: 1) directly specified areas of autonomy for localities; 2) directly specified restrictions on local government action; 3) directions to the state legislature to empower local governments; and 4) restrictions on the state legislature’s actions regarding local government.[2]  Reformers continue to be concerned on the one hand with the insufficiency of local autonomy under the state constitution and on the other with barriers in the constitution to rationalizing local government structures and reallocating powers among localities to reflect the realities of 21st century life in New York.

[1] Revisiting City Charters In New York State: James A. Coon Local Government Technical Series. 1998.

[2] . Peter J. Galie and Christopher Bopst (eds.). The New York State Constitution, 2nd Ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012) p. 267.



Local Governments

Bill of rights for local governments.

Section 1.   Effective local self-government and intergovernmental cooperation are purposes of the people of the state. In furtherance thereof, local governments shall have the following rights, powers, privileges and immunities in addition to those granted by other provisions of this constitution:

(a) Every local government, except a county wholly included within a city, shall have a legislative body elective by the people thereof. Every local government shall have power to adopt local laws as provided by this article.

New York Times
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
THE specter of financial collapse looms over New York State’s cities. For some the collapse is imminent, for others a few years off. Instead of confronting these realities, Gov.Andrew M. Cuomo’s proposed state budget avoids them.
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A selection of relevant solutions from other states.

Connecticut and Rhode Island have completely eliminated County Governments from their Local Government Structures.

Additionally, only 20 other States in the US have Towns or Townships as administrative divisions of the State: Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wisconsin.



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