NEW YORK — Registered voters who may be lulled into passivity by uncontested local races really do have good reason to hit the polls on Nov. 5. In addition to local candidates and propositions listed on the ballot, New Yorkers will have the chance to vote on six proposed changes to the New York State Constitution.
The proposals, whether they get a thumbs up or down, will directly impact casino gambling, service credit for veterans, municipal debt limits, title disputes in the forest preserve, a land swap between the state and a private mining company, and the age at which state judges must hang up their robes.
Under public scrutiny even before Election Day is the casino gambling proposal, currently the target of a lawsuit filed by Brooklyn attorney Eric Snyder on Friday, Oct. 11. In it he accused the state of using public money to hoodwink voters into approving the referendum. The referendum, which was reworded at the eleventh hour, promises benefits for New Yorkers, including jobs, lower taxes and more school aid. None of the drawbacks, such as crime, addiction and social costs, was mentioned. The additions were negotiated by the Cuomo administration and legislative leaders.
In response, the state sought to dismiss the lawsuit Friday by saying it was filed too late. The retooled version of the referendum wasn’t posted online by the state until Aug. 23, a week after the deadline to file a lawsuit. Snyder claims the changes were made in secret. Acting Supreme Court Justice Richard Platkin could rule to dismiss or advance the case in the coming week.
Here’s a summary of the casino gambling proposal, along with the other five state-level proposals on the ballot. For more election information, candidate profiles, guest essays and polling details, pick up any edition of the Daily Messenger in the coming weeks.
Proposal 1 — Authorizing casino gambling
This proposal, if approved, would allow the Legislature to authorize and regulate up to seven casinos for the purposes of promoting job growth, increasing aid to schools, and permitting local governments to lower property taxes through revenues generated.
Proponents of the amendment argue that casino gambling could be a major economic engine for New York state. They say gaming currently exists with five Native American-owned casinos and nine racinos already operating, but that the state doesn’t see many benefits yet. State-regulated casinos would bring tourism, revenue and good jobs, they say. Proponents also argue that limiting the number of casinos to no more than seven guarantees that there won’t be an excessive proliferation of them.
Opponents argue that expanding casino gambling could increase gambling addiction, exploit those suffering from addiction and their families, and have harmful effects on the communities where casinos are located. They say the hidden costs of adding a casino to a region are two to three times more than the touted benefits. Some opponents also argue that increased crime is also a likely outcome where casinos are based.
Page 2 of 3 - Proposal 2 — Additional civil service credit for veterans with disabilities certified post-appointment
The purpose of the proposed amendment is to give additional civil service credit to veterans who are certified as disabled after they have been appointed or promoted to a civil service position. Right now the state Constitution gives veterans additional credit on civil service exams, and disabled veterans are entitled to an even higher amount of additional credit. But veterans are eligible for only one grant of added credit. This amendment would create an exception to the one-time-only rule, allowing veterans who are certified disabled after having already received credit to receive additional credit one more time after certification of their disability.
Proponents argue that it would benefit individuals who, through no fault of their own, were not classified as disabled at the time of their first civil service appointment. They say veterans are more likely to be unemployed than the average citizen, and argue that this amendment would not only increase employment opportunities for veterans, but would also help put their training and experience to work for the state and local governments.
The League of Women Voters of New York State did not identify any opposition to the amendment.
Proposal 3 — Exclusion of indebtedness contracted for sewage facilities
If passed, the amendment would, for the next 10 years, continue to allow counties, cities, towns and villages to exclude from their constitutional debt limits any indebtedness incurred from upgrades or expansions to sewer systems and facilities. In other words, expenses for sewer improvements would not be factored into the state-determined borrowing limit for all other municipal capital projects. That provision is currently in place, but is set to expire Jan. 1, 2014. This amendment would extend it for ten more years, until Jan. 1, 2024.
Proponents say the amendment would allow municipalities to address sewage needs without impairing municipalities’ ability to finance other essential capital requirements. They say significant concerns still need to be addressed: New technology offers more efficient systems, ongoing development requires expanded systems, and aging sewage treatment facilities require upgrades or replacement.
The League of Women Voters of New York State did not identify any opposition to this amendment.
Proposal 4 — Settling disputed title in the forest preserve
The purpose of the proposed amendment is to resolve title disputes between the state and private parties regarding land located in the forest preserve, in the town of Long Lake, Hamilton County. It would allow the Legislature to settle 100-year-old disputes between the state and private parties over ownership of certain parcels of land in the preserve by giving up the state's claim to disputed parcels. In exchange, the state would get land to be incorporated into the forest preserve.
Proponents argue that it would finally remove the instability and cost of the longstanding land dispute, and would also increase the forest preserve. Opponents argue that a legislative settlement would establish a poor precedent for other private land ownership disputes in the Adirondack Park, and pave the way for an endless stream of private bills and constitutional amendments.
Page 3 of 3 - Proposal 5 — Allowance of a land exchange in the state forest preserve with NYCO Minerals, Inc.
The purpose of the proposed amendment is to allow NYCO Minerals, Inc., a private company, to continue its mining operations in the town of Lewis, Essex County. It would allow the state to swap about 200 forest preserve acres to NYCO Minerals for mining. And in exchange, NYCO Minerals would give the state at least the same amount of land of at least the same value. This land would be added to the forest preserve. When NYCO Minerals finishes mining, the company would restore the condition of the land it received in the exchange and return it to the forest preserve.
Proponents argue that the land swap would preserve jobs and ensure one of the largest employers in Essex County remains viable. They also say the state preserve would end up with both a greater quantity and higher quality of land. Opponents say that the land swap would set a dangerous and historic precedent because it would be the first forest-preserve constitutional amendment to be undertaken for private commercial gain. They also maintain that other viable alternatives exist.
Proposal 6 — Increasing age limit for certain state judges
If approved, the proposed amendment would increase the maximum age for Supreme Court and Court of Appeals justices to be 80 years. Supreme Court judges are currently required to retire in the year they turn 70, but are eligible to continue on for three additional two-year terms, if they can prove that their services are needed and that they are competent to perform their duties. The proposed amendment would make them eligible for two more two-year terms — a total of 10 additional years. Court of Appeals judges are currently required to retire in the year they turn 70. The amendment would allow a judge who turns 70 while in office to continue for up to 10 additional years.
Proponents argue that the current mandatory retirement age is archaic, noting a longer and healthier lifespan than when the current retirement age was set. Some opponents argue that the proposal unfairly favors high-level judges, while others argue that forced retirement encourages diversity.
— Includes reporting by Associated Press writer Michael Gormley, and information provided by The New York Public Interest Research Group and the League of Women Voters of New York State.