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Schulz v. New York State Executive, 1998 N.Y. Int. 0067 (June 9, 1998).

CONSTITUTIONAL LAW - PUBLIC FINANCE PROJECTS


ISSUE & DISPOSITION

Issues

1. Whether the Clean Water/Clean Air Bond Act of 1996 violates the "single work or purpose" clause of article VII, § 11 of the State Constitution.

2. Whether voters have standing to challenge the Bond Act as violative of article III, § 16 of the State Constitution.

Disposition

1. No. The Clean Water/Air Bond Act of 1996 satisfies the "single work or purpose"standard since the Act authorizes the creation of indebtedness for projects which are all directly related to the single categorical purpose of improving the State's environment.

2. No. The purpose of article III, § 16 is not related in any way to the exercise of referendum rights, therefore voters have no standing to challenge a Bond Act as violative of this provision.

SUMMARY

The Clean Water/Clean Air Bond Act of 1996 authorized the creation of a state general obligation debt of $1,750,000,000 to be used for the purpose of "preserving, enhancing, restoring and improving the quality of the state's environment." In October 1996, petitioners initiated a combined declaratory judgment action and article 78 proceeding seeking a determination that the Bond Act and its related provisions violate article VII, § 11 and article III, § 16 of the State Constitution. Article VII, § 11, mandates that proposed public financing schemes must be for "some single work or purpose, to be distinctively specified therein." This requirement prevents the executive and legislative branches of the government from embracing in one bond act several distinct and unrelated purposes, thereby decreasing the possibility of voter approval without assessment of the relative merit and strength of each purpose. Petitioners argued that the Bond Act, when read in conjunction with its implementing legislation, impermissibly authorized the use of bond proceeds for a multitude of unrelated projects, rendering voters at the November 1996 referendum unable to "intelligently evaluate and appraise the single purpose" of the proposed public debt. The Court of Appeals, after concluding that petitioners had standing under article VII, § 11 of the State Constitution, stated that the Bond Act at issue satisfied the "single work or purpose" requirement since all of the projects for which the act was created were naturally and logically related to the stated goal of "preserving, enhancing, restoring and improving" the environment.

The Court of Appeals dismissed petitioner's article III, § 16 arguments stating that voters do not have standing to challenge a bond act on the grounds that it violates that provision of the State Constitution. This determination was based in part on the fact that "the 'evil' that article III, § 16 was intended to address is 'the possibility of . . . misapprehension or unawareness' among State legislators, not citizens voting in a referendum."


Prepared by the liibulletin-ny Editorial Board.