Editorial: Saving Article IX


Saving Article IX

Among the most important sections of our New York State Constitution is Article IX, one that has been on the local books since the organization of our local governments—our counties, cities, towns and villages: home rule. This, in a broad sense, describes those governmental functions and activities traditionally reserved to or performed by local governments without undue infringement by the state. More technically, home rule refers to the constitutional and statutory powers given local governments to enact local legislation in order to carry out and discharge their duties and responsibilities—budgets, property taxes, schools, highways, fire departments, libraries, and the like. Home rule is accompanied by a restriction on the authority of the state legislature to enact special laws affecting a local government’s property, affairs and government. The legislature is specifically prohibited from acting with respect to the property affairs or governance of any local government except by general law, or by special law enacted on a home rule request by the legislative body of the affected local government, or by a two-thirds vote of each house upon receiving a certificate of necessity from the Governor. Article IX, in fact, serves both as a source of authority for local governments and as a shield against intrusion by the state upon their home rule prerogatives.

Although nearly every state in the union has some form of a home rule clause in its constitution, the home rule powers in New York State are among the most advanced in the nation. This makes our local governments full partners with the state in the shared responsibility for providing services to their people. It also means that we are able to enjoy the full benefits available to us in Otsego County: decent highways and bridges, clean streets, substantial police and fire departments, satisfactory public transportation, active and contributing libraries, and public school systems that perform pretty well for their students.

Not. So. Fast. Last month, the proposed FY2024 State Executive Budget was released, in which Part N proposes to eliminate public input from the appraisal modeling of industrial-scale solar and wind projects, and to exempt models and discount rates from the State Administrative Procedure Act. This will adversely impact town, county, and school district budgets by imposing a methodology that prevents the appropriate collection of revenue, depriving communities of the ability to invest in local services and infrastructure and eroding property values, while at the same time sending more revenue out of state to the (often foreign) energy developers, corporations that already enjoy pretty hefty state support. It further usurps local decision-making and home rule. Lastly, and equally damning, Part N backdates the effectivity of its declaration to 2021, essentially voiding the temporary restraining order that was issued that year to the Town of Blenheim, et al., in Schoharie, in its litigation to challenge the appraisal methodology for a solar- and wind-energy project the town was being forced to host.

The immediate challenge to local governments here is wind and solar energy development, whose negative impact on the use of our essential agricultural farmlands remains a problem yet to be solved. Worse, though, is the challenge that is staring us, and our local governments, in the face: the incipient loss our Constitution-given home rule Article IX and the frightening precedent that loss would hold over future challenges to our local governments.

Take a stand. Send a letter. Attend a meeting. Make some noise. Protect your local government.

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