Opinion Editorial on Home Rule
A Fight Over Spending in New York StateEditorial
Twice in August, judges declared unconstitutional or otherwise rejected state laws because, they said, the laws ran afoul of a provision in the New York State Constitution known as home rule. Both decisions involved transportation, and both could cost the public a lot of money: New York City in one case; the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in the other.
In simplest terms, the home-rule provision sets certain limits on state interference in local affairs. Last week, a State Supreme Court justice in Nassau County, R. Bruce Cozzens Jr., said the state had violated the home-rule provision by imposing a payroll tax on city and suburban residents to help finance the transportation authority without first getting approval from county governments.
On Aug. 17, Justice Arthur Engoron, of the State Supreme Court in Manhattan, ruled that the state had violated the provision by giving Mayor Michael Bloomberg the power to issue thousands of new taxi licenses and medallions, including many for vehicles that would have served the disabled. The judge said the state should have first received approval from the City Council.
The city and the transportation authority are planning appeals. Their main argument is that the requirements of the home-rule provision do not apply when the laws in question serve a “substantial state concern.” Which they do, in both cases: the transportation authority and an adequate taxi supply are important to the city’s economy, and, therefore, the state’s.
If these two rulings stand, they will cost the city $1.5 billion over the next few years and decimate the transportation authority by cutting more than $1.8 billion from the authority’s $13 billion annual budget. This would be bad for the city, the region and the state.