Assembly OKs ban on paying for referendums

New York Islanders owner Charles Wang speaks to

New York Islanders owner Charles Wang speaks to the media. (May 26, 2011) (Credit: Jim McIsaac)

Nearly 10 months after Nassau taxpayers voted down a measure to spend up to $400 million for a new Nassau Coliseum, the State Assembly has passed a bill that would prohibit private individuals or corporations from paying for public referendums.

The bill, sponsored by Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove), is a reaction to the offer by Islanders owner Charles Wang to pay for the Aug. 1, 2011, referendum if it passed. It cost Nassau $1.57 million to conduct the vote, said William Biamonte, Nassau's Democratic Board of Elections commissioner.

On Wednesday, the Democrat-controlled Assembly approved the bill by a vote of 124-3. Among the three Republicans who voted against the measure was Assemb. Edward Ra of Franklin Square.

The bill mandates that taxpayers pay for all expenses associated with a referendum. However, the bill does not yet have a Senate sponsor.

"This was a privatization of a public responsibility," Lavine said of Wang's offer. "It was the surrender of a public obligation."

The Islanders, the Coliseum's primary tenant, and Mangano administration officials did not respond to requests for comment on the bill. Both were supporters of the referendum.

Lavine said he has found no other instance, either before or after the Coliseum vote, of a private individual attempting to pay for a public referendum.

But Ra said the bill was too broad.

"If this bill simply was to prohibit such a situation, i.e. a private person or entity offering to pay the administrative costs of holding a referendum so long as the result is in their favor, I'd support the bill," he said. "This, however, was a blanket prohibition on a private entity being able to pay for the administration of a referendum."

Also voting against the bill were Assemb. Donald Miller (R-Cicero) and Steve Katz (R-Yorktown).

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