A judge on Wednesday dismissed a legal challenge to the rewording of a referendum on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to authorize seven more casinos in New York, a move that outraged good-government advocates as an attempt to dupe voters into approving the measure.
Acting Supreme Court Justice Richard Platkin ruled that Brooklyn lawyer Eric Snyder’s lawsuit was filed too late and lacked legal merit. Snyder vowed to appeal to the state Appellate Division.
Snyder argued that the lawsuit was filed beyond a 14-day statute of limitations only because the state didn’t post its unexpected rewording of the referendum until days after the deadline to sue.
Snyder contested the language of the Nov. 5 ballot proposition, claiming it was biased in favor of approval. It was reworded by the Cuomo administration and legislative leaders to promise benefits including jobs, lower taxes and school aid without mentioning any potential downside to casinos, including problem gambling and crime.
The referendum was then adopted July 29 by the state Board of Elections in a meeting that never identified the specific additions. The board posted the rewording on its website Aug. 23, days after the deadline to file a legal challenge to the language. The rewording didn’t become widely known until news articles publicized it Sept. 12.
The judge’s decision echoes the state Board of Elections argument that the referendum doesn’t constitute illegal advocacy for a “yes” vote.
“The claim of improper advocacy is barred by the statute of limitations,” Platkin wrote. “The claim that the (board) exceeded its authority in deviating from the attorney general’s proposed ballot and abstract language is both untimely and lacking in legal merit.”
Platkin also dismissed Snyder’s argument that the referendum’s wording was altered in secret outside the public meeting.
“The Open Meetings claim is conclusively defeated by documentary evidence,” Platkin wrote. He cited a record provided by the Board of Elections with the new wording dated July 29.
Snyder rejected the judge’s decision and called the board’s actions underhanded.
“The board waited almost four weeks — after the time period to raise a court challenge had passed — before making the new wording public,” Snyder said. “Transparency and proper notice are fundamental rights in this country, and that includes New York.”
He cites a footnote in the decision that states “the court expresses no view” on the merits of the argument over whether it’s legal or proper to use public money to advocate for a position.
“I’m slack-jawed,” Snyder said in an interview. “The argument that it’s advocacy at the public expense is thrown out on a technicality.”
Page 2 of 2 - Good-government advocates and newspaper editorials around the state criticized the rewording as an effort to trick voters into approving Cuomo’s casino plan, a major element of his economic development platform as he seeks re-election next year.
“We’re disappointed that the judge chose to block a legitimate discussion on the merits of whether the state gamed the language of the casino amendment to tilt New Yorkers to a ‘yes’ vote,” said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group. “New Yorkers still need to know how the state put its thumb on the scale in favor of casino interests when it came to drafting the pro-gambling ballot question.”
Cuomo has estimated that casinos would provide Albany $1 billion more a year to spend.
“This was a needless distraction from the issue that a majority of New Yorkers agree on: Moving our state forward with limited casino gaming upstate that will create good-paying jobs and generate hundreds of millions of dollars for new school aid and lower property taxes across the state,” said New York Jobs Now, a lobbying group of businessmen and politicians supporting the referendum.
The Democratic governor and the Legislature passed a law that will allow video slot machine racinos even if voters reject the Las Vegas-style casinos.
The gambling industry spent more than $2 million on campaign contributions in Albany and $14 million more on lobbying in the past two years alone, to Republicans and Democrats.
In addition, the lobbying group formed to run promotional TV ads for Cuomo and his policies, the Committee to Save New York, received $2 million a year ago from gambling interests.
Associated Press writer Michael Virtanen contributed to this report from Albany.