Gotham Gazette

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Gotham Votes 2013

6 Proposals On November's Ballot And What They Mean

Besides picking a new mayor, New Yorkers will have the opportunity to approve or reject six ballot measures this year. Voters are being asked to decide on upstate land disputes, whether to approve an extension for how long certain state judges can serve on the bench and whether to allow up to seven casinos to be built. Since there are so many questions about the proposals, we here at the Gazette thought it might be helpful to provide readers with a look at the questions in advance and provide some context so that you won’t be left scratching your head at the polls.

Here are the ballot measures in order as they will appear on Nov. 5:

Proposal One: Authorizing Casino Gambling

Actual Ballot Language:

“The purpose of the proposed amendment to section 9 of article 1 of the Constitution is to allow the Legislature to authorize and regulate up to seven casinos for the legislated purposes of promoting job growth, increasing aid to schools, and permitting local governments to lower property taxes through revenues generated. Shall the proposed amendment be approved?”

Our Take:

The issue of allowing casino gambling in the state is more complicated than the ballot language decided on by the Cuomo administration and the Board of Elections might let on.

A bankruptcy lawyer has sued alleging that the language breaks the law because it is promotional and does not mention other realities associated with casinos, such as problem gambling. The New York Public Interest Research Group has issued a brief supporting the lawsuit against the state.

While supporters say the casinos, which are expected to be upstate, will help boost flagging economies and send more money to state coffers, groups like the Catholic League worry about the negative impacts casinos have had in other states including increases in bankruptcy, embezzlement arrests and DWIs.

Gambling interests have made major political donations to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and all the pertinent legislative players. A study by Common Cause found that gambling interests have contributed $3.2 million to New York politicians since 2011.

Proposal Two: Additional Civil Service Credit for Veterans With Disabilities Certified Post-Appointment

Actual Ballot Language:

“The proposed amendment to section 6 of article 5 of the Constitution would entitle a veteran who has received civil service credit for a civil service appointment or promotion and subsequently is certified as disabled to additional civil service credit at a subsequent appointment or promotion. Shall the proposed amendment be approved?”

Our Take:

Despite the complicated talk about civil service credits, the crux of this measure is fairly simple: it is designed to help disabled veterans get civil service jobs. Proponents note that veterans have a higher unemployment rate than most New Yorkers and that the measure could help the state use the skills and training these veterans posses. GG couldn’t find any groups actively opposed to the measure .

Proposal Three: Exclusion of Indebtedness Contracted for Sewage Facilities

Actual Ballot Language:                            

“The proposed amendment to Article 8, section 5 of the Constitution would extend for ten years, until January 1, 2024, the authority of counties, cities, towns, and villages to exclude from their constitutional debt limits indebtedness contracted for the construction or reconstruction of sewage facilities. Shall the proposed amendment be approved?”

Our Take:

This measure would allow local municipalities to exclude any debt they might incur from construction or reconstruction of sewage facilities from their constitutional debt limit. Such a measure has been in place since the 1960s to encourage municipalities to deal with sewage issues and to prevent water pollution. If the amendment is not approved, the statute will only apply to debt incurred until the end of 2013. The measure would extend the exclusion of indebtedness until January 1, 2024. GG could not identify any groups that are actively opposed to the measure.

Proposal Four: Settling Disputed Title in the Forest Preserve

Actual Ballot Language:

“The proposed amendment to section 1 of article 14 of the Constitution would authorize the Legislature to settle longstanding disputes between the State and private entities over certain parcels of land within the forest preserve in the town of Long Lake, Hamilton County. In exchange for giving up its claim to disputed parcels, the State would get land to be incorporated into the forest preserves that would benefit the forest preserve more than the disputed parcels currently do. Shall the proposed amendment be approved?”

Our Take:

For 100 years, the state has been feuding with landowners in Long Lake, located nearly 280 miles northwest of the city. At the center of the dispute is about 1,000 acres that are currently included in a forest preserve. The proposed amendment would see the state give up its claims on the land and create a fund that owners of the disputed land would pay into until adequate funds are reached to buy suitable replacement parcels for the forest preserve. Owners of the disputed properties could reduce the amount of money they owe the state by giving up pieces of their land to the state or by entering into conservation agreements with the town of Long Lake.

Proposal Five: In Relation to a Land Exchange in the State Forest Preserve with NYCO Minerals, Inc.

Actual Ballot Language:

“The proposed amendment to section 1 of article 14 of the Constitution would authorize the Legislature to convey forest preserve land located in the town of Lewis, Essex County, to NYCO Minerals, a private company that plans on expanding an existing mine that adjoins the forest preserve land. In exchange, NYCO Minerals would give the State at least the same amount of land of at least the same value, with a minimum assessed value of $1 million, to be added to the forest preserve. When NYCO Minerals finishes mining, it would restore the condition of the land and return it to the forest preserve. Shall the proposed amendment be approved?”

Our Take:

The “Forever Wild” clause in the state’s constitution forbids the lease, sale, exchange or taking of any land from the state’s forest preserve. This amendment would allow the state to take 200 acres from the forest preserve and give it to Willsboro-based NYCO Minerals Inc. The company wants to expand a pit mine it uses to unearth wollastonite, a mineral used in making certain plastics, ceramics and paints.

Under this proposal, NYCO would evaluate how much the property is worth, share its research with the state and provide the state with land of equal value to add to the preserve. When NYCO is done mining its parcels, it would restore the mined land to its previous condition and it would be made part of the preserve again.

Proponents of the measure say that NYCO is running out of wollastonite on current land that adjoins the forest preserve and that it needs to continue deeper into the preserve to continue extracting the rare mineral. The company says allowing the exchange will preserve jobs in an area with few other industries.

Opponents of the measure, many of them environmentalists, say the exchange would set a devastating precedent for the forest preserve because it would be the first amendment to the “forever wild” clause enacted for commercial benefit rather than public gain. Furthermore, opponents insist NYCO has plenty of mineral stores on its existing property.

Proposal Six: Increasing Age Until Which Certain State Judges Can Serve

Actual Ballot Language:

“The proposed amendment to the Constitution, amending sections 2 and 25 of article 6, would increase the maximum age until which certain state judges may serve as follows: (a) a Justice of the Supreme Court would be eligible for five additional two year terms after the present retirement age of 70, instead of the three such terms currently authorized; and (b) a Judge of the Court of Appeals who reaches the age of 70 while in office would be permitted to remain in service on the Court for up to 10 years beyond the present retirement age of 70 in order to complete the term to which that Judge was appointed. Shall the proposed amendment be approved?”

Our Take:

Voters will be asked to decide whether to extend the age limit to 80 for state judges of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals. The ballot proposal is among the most contentious in a list of six questions on the ballot this year. When State Supreme Court judges reach 70 they can apply for three two-year extensions to their terms that would allow them to serve until 76. Court of Appeals Justices currently have to retire at age 70 even if they haven’t served out their terms. The amendment would allow them to serve 10 more years to fulfill their terms.

Advocates for the amendment — prime among them the state’s Chief Judge, Jonathan Lippman, himself near the age limit to serve — say passing the measure could alleviate the state’s overloaded judicial system, where there is a backlog of some 31,000 cases in state Supreme Court alone.

Detractors say that the move is a power play by Lippman, who is close to 70. Lippman is seen as an ally of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and opponents say the measure unfairly extends the terms of powerful, politically connected, high-ranking judges. Others say that forced retirement helps increase diversity to a system currently dominated by old white men.

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