Brigid Bergin is the City Hall reporter for WNYC. She covers city politics including the 2013 mayoral race and transition.
UPDATE: Voters approved 5 of the 6 referenda on yesterday's ballot. The one initiative that didn't pass would have raised the mandatory retirement age of judges; the retirement age will remain 70, with the possibility of three two-year extensions.
To hear WNYC's Brigid Bergin explain Tuesday's ballot questions click audio player above.
When voters go to the polls on Tuesday, there will be more than just candidates on the ballot. There are also six ballot questions – SIX! This may also be a good time to mention that the upcoming election will be conducted using paper ballots and optical scanners (i.e. no lever machines). On the front of the paper ballot, vote for candidates. But make sure to flip it over for six proposals that would in some way change the state Constitution.
Exact wording for each one is at the bottom, but here are the basics:
1. Vegas, baby, yeah! (APPROVED)
Proposal 1 would allow up to seven Las Vegas-style casinos in New York State. The first four are planned for upstate New York. Then after seven years, lawmakers could vote on whether to open a casino in New York City.
Opponents include an odd assortment of unlikely bedfellows: liberal New York State Senator Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan), NYS Conservative Party Chair Mike Long, plus a handful of conservative and religious groups that see gambling as a societal scourge that acts like a regressive tax on poor New Yorkers.
Among the supporters, there’s Governor Cuomo, the casino industry, a coalition of labor, education, and business leaders, and both New York City mayoral candidates. They say casino gambling will bring jobs to beleaguered upstate cities while sending millions of dollars in revenue to the school system – basically everything short of motherhood and apple pie.
2. Points for Vets (APPROVED)
Proposal 2 would give veterans with combat-related disabilities extra points when competing for civil service promotions. This proposal has gotten the least attention because there’s very little controversy over it. The League of Women Voters, which puts out its own non-partisan voter guide, noted it couldn’t find any opponents of the measure (h/t to Ballotpedia.org).
That sounds good, right? That’s why the Watertown Daily Times supports proposal 3, which is actually already on the books. By voting yes, you are simply voting in favor of allowing cities to continue to spend what’s needed to build and maintain their sewage facilities. The original amendment was passed back in 1962 and has been renewed every decade since. No one has actively campaigned against it.
4. Mildly controversial Adirondack land swap (APPROVED)
Proposal 4 attempts to fix a boundary line dispute in the tiny hamlet of Raquette Lake. Proponents say a lack of documentation concerning ownership of the land has made settling the claims in court difficult, expensive and unpredictable, according to the League of Women Voters.
Opponents say this would establish a bad precedent for other private land ownership disputes in the Adirondack Park and argue that similar land disputes have been resolved via the judicial system.
5. Controversial Adirondack land swap (APPROVED)
Proposal 5 would allow the mining company NYCO to expand its drilling operation 200 acres into state land in exchange for roughly 1,500 acres of land that would be added to the state’s forest preserve. The measure is opposed by a coalition of environmentalists led by the non-profit Protect the Adirondacks!, Inc. The group argues that the land that would be mined is home to "old growth forest." The Sierra Club and NRDC also opposes the proposal, as do the Albany Times Union and the Lake George Mirror.
But it's supported by two other green groups – the Adirondack Mountain Club and the Adirondack Council.
6. More time on the Bench (NOT APPROVED)
Proposal 6 raises the mandatory judicial retirement age to 80 years-old. Supreme Court Justices are currently required to retire when they hit 70, but can continue to perform their duties if elected and with special approval until age 76. Judges for the Court of Appeals are required to retire the year they turn 70.
One of the proposal's top proponents is Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman who argues the current age limit is outdated. He tells The New York Times, “It’s an anachronism in the year 2013 to have a constitutional presumption of senility at age 70.” If passed, Judge Lippman has pledged to send some of his older, seasoned judges to help clear the backlog in overburdened court houses.
On the other hand, Governor Cuomo has expressed “reservations” about the proposal. The good government group Citizens Union also opposes the measure because it only extends the retirement age for certain judges.
Here’s how the questions will read on the ballot:
Proposal One - Authorizing Casino Gaming
“The proposed amendment to section 9 of article 1 of the Constitution would allow the Legislature to authorize up to seven casinos in New York State for the legislated purpose of promoting job growth, increasing aid to schools, and permitting local governments to lower property taxes through revenues generated. Shall the amendment be approved?”
Proposal Two – Additional Civil Service Credit for Veterans with Disabilities Certified Post-Appointment
“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?”
Proposal Three – Exclusion of Indebtedness Contracted for Sewage Facilities
“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?”
Proposal Four – Settling Disputed Title in the Forest Preserve
“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 ownership of certain parcels of land 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 preserve that would benefit the forest preserve more than the disputed parcels currently do. Shall the proposed amendment be approved?”
Proposal Five – In Relation to a Land Exchange in the State Forest Preserve with NYCO Minerals, Inc.
“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?”
Proposal Six – Increasing Age until which Certain State Judges Can Serve
“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?"