New York voters to decide on municipal debt limit exemptions for sewage improvements

A constitutional amendment regarding indebtedness for the construction of sewage facilities will appear on the ballot for New York voters on Nov. 7, 2023. The amendment was referred to the ballot by the New York Legislature.

In New York, for the state Legislature to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot, a simple majority vote is required during two successive legislative sessions. The amendment, introduced as Senate Bill S8931 in 2022, passed the Senate by 63-0 on May 31, 2022, then passed by 141-1 in the House on June 3, 2022. In the following legislative session, the amendment passed the Senate by 61-0 on March 23, 2023, then passed the House by 146-0 on May 17, 2023.

The amendment would extend an existing provision in the New York Constitution regarding municipal indebtedness resulting from the construction or maintenance of sewer facilities. Under the New York Constitution, state municipalities are under a constitutional debt limitation. In 1963, voters approved Amendment 5, which provided for these municipalities to exclude from their constitutional debt limits any indebtedness related to the construction or reconstruction of sewage facilities for an 11-year period. It was most recently re-approved in 2013, when 62% of voters approved Proposal 3. Proposal 3 extended the exclusion until Jan. 1, 2024.

The 2023 amendment would extend that exemption for another ten years up until 2034.

A memorandum in support of the legislation, submitted by the New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli (D), said, “The need and rationale for the debt exclusion cited in 1963 and in each subsequent extension remains relevant and valid today. Local government finances continue to be strained by the need to repair or replace aging sewer infrastructure. Indeed, the urgent need for improvements and upgrades to municipal sewer facilities is well-documented as an ongoing concern for local governments.”

New Yorkers approved extending this exemption five additional times after originally approving it in 1963.

  1. 1963: Voters approved Amendment 5 by 63%-36% on Nov. 5, 1963.
  2. 1973: Voters approved Amendment 1 by 54%-45% on Nov. 7, 1973.
  3. 1983: Voters approved Proposal 2 by 51%-48% on Nov. 8, 1983.
  4. 1993: Voters approved Proposal 2 by 50%-49% on Nov. 2, 1993.
  5. 2003: Voters approved Proposal 1 by 52%-47% on Nov. 4, 2003.
  6. 2013: Voters approved Proposal 3 by 62%-37% on Nov. 5, 2013.

As of May 23, there are two measures certified for the Nov. 7, 2023, ballot in New York. The other constitutional amendment, referred by the state legislature, would remove the debt limit regarding property valuations for small city school districts.