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Sara Foss's Thinking It Through
by Sara Foss

Thinking It Through

A Daily Gazette life blog
Her column and blog rolled into one
 

An off year, but still worth casting votes

By
Monday, November 4, 2013

Because it’s an off-year election, with no presidential, gubernatorial or congressional races to speak of, today’s voter turnout is expected to be low.
Which is difficult for me to understand.
I love voting, and I always vote in off years.
This year, I’m especially eager to vote against the ballot’s gambling measure, which would change the state Constitution to allow Las Vegas-style casinos throughout the state. When I saw my friend Bruce on Saturday, I encouraged him to head to the polls and do the same. “It’s not a very exciting election,” I acknowledged. “If nothing else, you can vote against the gambling proposal.”
“Hmmm,” Bruce said, thoughtfully. “Maybe I should.”
I’ve already laid out my position on the gambling measure that the Cuomo administration is pushing.
My basic position is that the state already has plenty of gambling and that gambling-based economies come with hidden costs, such as higher rates of problem gambling. I’m also skeptical of the state’s claims about gambling’s monetary benefits. Supporters are fond of saying that the measure’s fiscal impact will be $430 million annually; what often goes unsaid is that this figure includes more than $100 million in revenue from upstate Indian casinos and the 2,000 video lottery terminals that would be installed at Off-Track Betting facilities on Long Island.
The one argument in favor of the gambling referendum that I’m sympathetic to concerns jobs, as unemployment remains high.
But when you delve into the numbers, well, they’re not exactly all they’re cracked up to be.
The NYS Gaming Commission estimates that four new upstate casinos would create 9,600 jobs, of which 6,700 would be temporary construction jobs. This is a pretty conservative estimate; NY Jobs Now, the coalition of labor unions and businesses supporting the gambling amendment, has said that passage of the amendment will lead to the creation of more than 10,000 permanent jobs.
Whatever the case, the growth is unlikely to be significant.
As E.J. McMahon at the Albany-based Empire Center points out in a recent essay, “Even the higher figure of 10,000 would boost total upstate private-sector employment by only 0.4 percent.”
Now, I don’t want to downplay the importance of jobs, or the need for new revenue. But the state’s projections are to be taken with a grain of salt.
The gambling measure isn’t the only statewide ballot question.
Voters are also being asked to allow certain state judges to serve until the age of 80. Right now, these judges are forced to retire at 70.
“I don’t see any reason to vote against that,” Bruce said, when I told him about the proposal.
I agreed, though with some reservations. My feeling is that turnover in the judiciary is probably a good thing, as it allows for new voices and perspectives. But the same could be said of many workplaces. Why single out state judges? I can think of many people who are mentally sharp well into their 80s and 90s, such as my great uncle Frank and my late grandfather.
Also on the ballot is a controversial land swap in the Adirondacks.
This measure would allow the state to give 200 forest preserve acres to NYCO Minerals for open pit mining. In exchange, NYCO Minerals would give the state land of comparable value to be added to the forest preserve. When NYCO is done mining, it will restore the land and return it to the forest preserve.
Interestingly, this proposal has divided environmental groups, with the Adirondack Council and Adirondack Mountain Club supporting it, and Adirondack Wild opposing it.
As someone who cares about the earth, I’m generally suspicious of mining interests. And it’s possible that allowing a private company to take and use forest preserve land for commercial benefit sets a bad precedent.
But the NYCO land swap actually sounds pretty reasonable.
The state will wind up with more forest preserve land than it started with, including areas that will open up public access to the Jay and Hurricane Mountain Wilderness Areas, and the mining will provide jobs for a needy area.
It might be an off-year election, but there’s some important stuff on the ballot. Because voters are more inclined to stay home, I actually feel a little more pressure to vote. And if I’ve succeeded in getting Bruce to vote, well, so much the better.
In any case, polls are open until 9 p.m. So if you haven’t voted, there’s still plenty of time.
Sara Foss, a Gazette columnist, can be reached at sfoss@dailygazette.net. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Her blog is at www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/foss.

 
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