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The Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government

About Government Reform

Government Reform

The Rockefeller Institute has long examined efforts to reform state and local governments. Work has included studies of state public service reform, the regionalization of local government functions, constitutional reform, and campaign finance reform. In addition, the Institute has hosted many discussions of reform issues in New York State.

Students of governmental reform will find much of interest in the Institute’s archives:

Handbook for Appointed Officials in America's Governments

In American governments, unlike in other countries, there are thick layers of officials in appointive offices. Thousands of people serve in these roles. They are "inners and outers" who serve "at the pleasure" of the officials who appointed them. This small book — really a long essay — is intended to inform people who should be interested in these exciting, challenging leadership jobs inside America's governments.
Richard P. Nathan, The Rockefeller Institute Press, 2009.
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An Updated Look at Challenges Facing State and Local Governments

Public Administration Review published a special issue, “The Winter Commission Report Revisited,” edited by Frank J. Thompson. Formed 15 years ago by the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, under the leadership of former Mississippi Governor William F. Winter, the Commission examined the capacity and accountability of state and local governments. Click here to learn more and to access an order form.
December 2008

Who Should Redraw the Political Map? Redistricting in New York State

Many observers view legislative redistricting, along with campaign finance reform, as two necessary cornerstones of any effort to fundamentally reform New York State government. Most, if not all, of these proposals advocate some form of nonpartisan or an independent commission to draw district lines. Roman Hedges and Blair Horner share their differing views on this issue.
Roman Hedges, Deputy Secretary, New York State Assembly Ways and Means Committee, and Member, NYS Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment, and Blair Horner, Legislative Director, New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), May 19, 2006.

Campaign Finance: The Reform Moment in Albany and DC?

Campaign finance reform raises an enormous range of questions. There are constitutional questions about how you regulate campaign spending without burdening free speech or freedom of assembly; deep questions of political values; and a lot of practical questions. The Brennan Center’s Democracy Program includes a campaign finance reform project.
Michael Waldman, Executive Director, The Brennan Center for Justice, NYU School of Law, April 28, 2006.

Perspectives on New York State's Lobbying Law

Lobbying is a big business. It was over $149 million in 2005 and will continue to be a big business in Albany. David Grandeau, executive director of New York Temporary State Commission on Lobbying, examines the law regulating lobbying in the state.
David Grandeau, Executive Director, New York Temporary State Commission on Lobbying, April 4, 2006.

Judicial Selection in New York State

Few political values are more desirable than competence, integrity, and independence in a state’s judicial branch, though few are probably harder to guarantee in typical state and local political processes. That problem is not unknown in this state where partisan elections are used to fill 346 supreme court judgeships in 128 county courts, and where party nominations do not always turn on merit and integrity. Assemblyman Herman Farrell addresses this important issue.
Assemblyman Herman D. Farrell, Jr., Chair, Assembly Committee on Ways and Means, March 13, 2006.

Court Reform in New York State

After stressing the importance of the independence of the judiciary, Judge Lippman focuses on four areas of court reform efforts: 1) Judicial election; 2) Judicial discipline; 3) Court restructuring and problem-solving justice; and 4) Judicial salary reform.
Jonathan Lippman, Chief Administrative Judge, New York State Unified Court System, May 17, 2005.

Balancing Budget Powers in New York

A distinguished group of experts debates whether the Court of Appeals December 16, 2004, decision, which called the governor the architect of the budget and the Legislature the critic, increased the budgeting power of the governor and further limited the role of the Legislature, and if so, how it will play out.
John M. Caher, Albany Bureau Chief, New York Law Journal; James McGuire, State Supreme Court Judge, Queens County; Abe Lackman, President, Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities; and Frank Mauro, Director of the Fiscal Policy Institute, March 23, 2005.

Amending the New York State Constitution — Current Reform Issues

Current reform issues call for amending the New York State Constitution. The two ways to amend it — through Legislative proposal, which the voters would vote on, or placing the call for a convention on a ballot, which happens every twenty years — are discussed. The possibility and feasibility of a third way called, “a limited call convention,” are also explored.
Gerald Benjamin, Dean, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, State University at New Paltz, and Richard Briffault, Joseph P. Chamberlain Professor of Legislation at Columbia Law School, March 14, 2005.

Regionalism and Realism: A Study of Government in the New York Metropolitan Area

Drawing on the history of state and local government in the New York Tri-State metropolitan region, the authors present a pathbreaking new theory about the values reformers must understand and balance in order to tackle the hard challenges of reforming and regionalizing local governance in the complex, dynamic world of American politics and public policy.
Gerald Benjamin and Richard Nathan, Brookings Institution Press, 2001.
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Social Science in Government

This book presents a lively retrospective account of a career as an inner and outer in American government and academe by a social scientist who has spent many years conducting evaluation studies of what works — and what doesn't work — in domestic public affairs. The book uses rich histories of prominent policy issues and descriptions of major studies of welfare and job programs to bring to life crucial questions about how social science can best serve social policy.
Richard P. Nathan, The Rockefeller Institute Press, 2000.
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Campaign Contribution Limits: Cure or Curse?

Rather than offer more elaborate ways of quashing electoral participation, reform proposals ought to offer ways of harnessing large contributors and institutional resources to expand the range of interests organized effectively for electoral action.
Thomas Gais, Regulation, 1999.

Saving City Neighborhoods

Outside the glare of TV news cameras lie urban neighborhoods that have successfully withstood or avoided decline. Still others have made the heroic turn from decay to renewal. For those who care about cities — and with metropolitan areas accounting for better than 85 percent of the nation's population and economic growth, that should be just about everyone — there are lessons and energy to be drawn from these positive trends and developments as well.
David J. Wright, Rockefeller Institute Bulletin, 1999.

The Day After Reform: Sobering Campaign Finance Lessons from the American States

This book is based on a fifty-state survey of campaign finance laws and their administering agencies, analyses of reports from the states that release candidate-level data, and extensive open-ended interviews with political leaders in half a dozen jurisdictions with among the most ambitious regulatory frameworks. It concludes with recommendations based on realistic assumptions set in a package that is designed to remain workable over the long haul.
Michael Malbin and Thomas Gais, The Rockefeller Institute Press, 1997.
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Decision 1997: Constitutional Change in New York

The material presented in this book grew out of the work of the Temporary Commission on Constitutional Revision created in 1993 and chaired by Peter G. Goldmark, Jr. Former New York State Governor Malcolm Wilson, to whom this book is dedicated and who served as a member of the Commission, said of this compendium, "This volume deserves to have a long shelf life even after the people exercise their duty to vote on this issue in 1997. These papers constitute a valuable resource on our great governmental heritage."
Gerald Benjamin and Henrik N. Dullea (eds.), The Rockfeller Institute Press, 1997.
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Charter Revision in the Empire State: The Politics of New York's 1967 Constitutional Convention

Few citizens know much about the constitution of their state. Yet state constitutions are basic instruments of our democracy. They structure state and local government and stipulate the rights of citizenship. In New York State, the constitution mandates a periodic vote on whether the state constitution should be revised. This is a history of the 1967 constitutional convention.
Henrik N. Dullea, The Rockfeller Institute Press, 1997.
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Constitutional Conventionphobia

This essay examines the reasons for constitutional ”conventionphobia” at national and state levels and lists and discusses possible cures, such as: limited conventions, indirect initiative, constitutional commission with direct ballot access, statutory standing constitutional commission, action panels, and building deliberation into the initiative process. An amending process, it argues, needs balance between ease and difficulty, to allow change while preserving continuity, and between “how” a constitution is amended and “who” does the amending, to allow deliberation while preserving legitimacy.
Gerald Benjamin and Thomas Gais. Hofstra Law and Policy Symposium, 1996.

Public Discontent and the Decline of Deliberation: A Dilemma in State Constitutional Reform

How can states respond to demands for fundamental changes in a thoughtful, deliberative manner if many of the same political problems and public attitudes that gave rise to those demands also block traditional channels for addressing them? This essay seeks to articulate this problem and to sketch some solutions, including new procedures for revisiting state constitutions that would blend the processes of direct democracy and representative institutions and enhance the deliberative quality of direct citizen participation.
Thomas Gais and Gerald Benjamin, Temple Law Review, Fall 1995.

Effective Government Now for the New Century

The final report of the Temporary Commission on Constitutional Revision created in 1993 and chaired by Peter G. Goldmark, Jr.
Gerald Benjamin, with Peter Goldmark, Pauline Toole, and Eric Lane, The Rockefeller Institute for the Temporary State Commission on Constitutional Revision, February 1995.

The New York State Constitution: A Briefing Book

This briefing book was prepared for the work of the Temporary Commission on Constitutional Revision created in 1993 and chaired by Peter G. Goldmark, Jr.
Gerald Benjamin (ed.), The Rockefeller Institute for the Temporary State Commission on Constitutional Revision, 1994.

Report on the Local Government Restructuring Project

While many government officials and business and civic leaders have been showing interest in local government consolidation and cooperation, efforts to create new jurisdictions have also been underway. The Local Government Restructuring Project was organized to provide practical advice to state and local policymakers and to help them and the public think through the implications of these values for New York's local government structure. This booklet summarizes the activities and outcomes of the project.
Victor J. Riley, Jr., Chair, Robert D. McEvoy, Richard P. Nathan, and Frank J. Mauro, 1992.

Hard Truths/Tough Choices: An Agenda for State and Local Reform

The concept that public service, especially public service at the state and local level, is a noble and worthy calling must somehow be revitalized in this country. This report contains a series of proposals that, taken together, would constitute a significant change in how our more than 15 million state and local employees perform their duties.
The National Commission on the State and Local Public Service, 1991.

Rockefeller In Retrospect: The Governor's New York Legacy

This volume explores the legacy of Nelson A. Rockefeller, the state’s distinguished fiftieth governor, who served over a period of 15 years, from 1959 to 1973. About 100 people — many of them participants with the governor in state government during his tenure — gathered at the Rockefeller Institute of Government on December 10 and 11, 1982 to discuss, ten years later, the governor’s long-term impact upon politics, institutions, and policies in the Empire State. This volume is the record of that two-day program.
Gerald Benjamin and T. Norman Hurd (Eds.), 1984.