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Voters get last word on passage of six state amendments

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There are six amendments on Tuesday’s ballot, ranging from whether New York should allow seven resort-style gambling casinos, to whether judges should be allowed to serve on the bench until the age of 80. Here’s a rundown:

Proposition 1 has received the most attention. It would amend the state’s constitution to change the prohibition on gambling casinos, allowing up to seven resort style gambling centers to be built. A coalition of business and labor groups has been mailing brochures out to voters, and running ads.

“For new jobs and revenue for better schools, vote yes on proposal one,” a narrator urges, as images of construction workers, teachers and students in a classroom flash on the screen.

Heather Briccetti, president of the New York State Business Council, prefers to focus on what the group says are the benefits of the casinos.

“We believe that the passage of this proposal will result in job creation,” Briccetti said. “And will result in new revenue to local governments and municipalities that doesn’t involve increasing taxes.”

Even the actual ballot language does not dwell on the actual gambling that would occur in the new casinos.

Opponents say the wording is misleading. David Blankenhorn, with the Institute for American Values, says more casinos lead to more gambling addiction.

“It’s a regressive public policy,” Blankenhorn said. “It’s a policy that takes from the havenots and distributes it to the haves.”

Proposition 2 would amend the state’s civil service law to give disabled veterans an extra credit advantage on exams to obtain jobs or get promoted.

Proposition 3 would allow local governments to borrow to improve sewage systems, without having it count against debt limits imposed by the state’s constitution.

Four and five deal with land swap deals in the Adirondack Park. One would clear up some decades old title disputes for owners of property on Raquette Lake, in exchange for donations of more acres to the forest preserve.

The other land swap would allow a mining company that employs around 100 people access to mine on 200 acres of forest preserve. In exchange the mining company would give up 1,500 acres of land it owns to give greater access to existing public wilderness areas.

Willie Janeway, with the Adirondack Council, says it’s a fair trade.

“The focus on this amendment is really the benefit it provides to the people of the state of New York, and the benefits to communities, including the jobs," Janeway said.

Other environmental groups disagree. Peter Bauer, with Protect the Adirondacks, says it’s a bad precedent to trade parkland for industrial uses.

“To give that away so it can be clear cut and blasted and incorporated into an open pit mine really doesn’t make sense,” Bauer said.

The final amendment on the ballot would allow judges on the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, and Supreme Court judges, to stay on the bench until they are 80 years old. The current retirement age is 70. Vince Bonventre, an Albany Law School court expert, says it would allow many judges, including the current chief Judge Jonathan Lippmann, to serve out their existing 14 year terms.

“Our best judges literally are at their best when they are 70 years old, and yet we force them to retire,” Bonventre said.  “I really think that’s crazy."

Opponents say the amendment is flawed, because it would not apply to all judges in the state, and does nothing to address staff shortages in the lower courts.  

Polls show the public favors the first amendment to legalize casino gambling, which is also supported by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.  There is far less support for allowing judges to work another decade. It’s difficult to predict the outcome of the ballot amendments with any certainty, as many people either skip voting on them or miss them altogether. All of the ballot proposals will be on the back of paper ballots.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.