Government Law Center Fellows Break Down NY Constitution Issues Ahead of Election Day

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New Yorkers will vote on a pair of state constitutional amendment this November the first of which could eliminate constitutional debt limits for smaller, city school districts allowing them to borrow more to improve aging infrastructure, asbestos abatement, and classroom technology upgrades.  

The Government Law Center (GLC) at Albany Law School analyzes the first amendment’s potential impact on these historically underfunded schools in its newest explainer, “2023 Statewide Ballot Proposal 1: Constitutional Amendment Removing the Debt Limit on Small City School Districts.” READ HERE

Currently, the 57 New York school districts within cities with fewer than 125,000 inhabitants are limited on borrowing only up to five percent of the local property tax base. Those districts can only exceed that limit through 60%+ local vote approval, state Board of Regents approval, and approval from the New York State Comptroller’s Office. By contrast, rural and suburban districts can borrow up to 10 percent only needing local vote and Board approval.

“The proposed amendment would remove the 5% constitutional limitation on the amount of debt that small city school districts can incur for educational purposes. This would place small city school districts on constitutional equal footing with suburban and rural school districts in New York State, whose borrowing limits are set by statute, and which may be modified by the Legislature more easily than amending the constitutional amendment,” author Ashlyn Henrichs ’25 notes in the explainer.

“Thus, the primary effect of the amendment would be to apply to small city school districts the same limitations and constitutional provisions that are applied to other school districts, subject to the statutory limitations of the Local Finance Law and other approvals required by school districts,” Henrichs writes.

The second explainer – “2023 Statewide Ballot Proposal 2: Constitutional Amendment Excluding Sewage from Local Indebtedness” – focuses on extending the current allowance of municipalities to borrow for sewage facilities, without state constitutional limitations, from 2024 to 2034. READ HERE

Author Michael Lennon, a pre-law student at Siena College and 2023 GLC Summer Legal Fellow, points out that extension has passed every decade for the past 30 years with expanding approval including a 62% pass rate in 2013.

Both explainers are the latest in a series from the GLC that concisely map out the law that applies to important questions of public policy. The GLC has also created explainers on a variety of topics, including state constitutional amendments, voting rights, government ethics reform, political redistricting in New York, immigration, aging, and policing policy, among others.