March 15, 2020

Well, here’s one money saver for state lawmakers: They don’t need to come up with the cash for public financing of political campaigns anytime soon, since a judge last week quite rightly struck the program down.

In an 11-page ruling, Niagara County Supreme Court Justice Ralph Boniello held that the ridiculous method Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature used to impose the public-finance system was blatantly unconstitutional: Setting up an independent commission whose plan would become law unless legislators held a special session to derail it was “an improper and unconstitutional delegation of legislative authority.”

Also junked is the Public Finance and Elections Commission move to make things rougher for minor parties by requiring them to win more votes in a statewide election to keep their ballot lines.

Of course, higher courts may overrule Boniello — but they shouldn’t: Quite apart from the myriad problems of taxpayer-funded campaigns, it’s a complete abdication of duty for lawmakers to pass off their core powers to unelected panels.

This is another win for the Government Justice Center, the Albany-based public-interest legal nonprofit whose brief in the case plainly formed the basis for Boniello’s opinion. As GJC chief Cameron Macdonald put it, “Only the Legislature . . . can pass laws that supersede existing laws.”

Still out on appeal is an earlier GJC victory, tossing the similar Rube Goldberg scheme that raised legislators’ pay a year earlier. Here’s hoping the state’s highest court confirms the obvious: In both cases, New York lawmakers need to pass laws themselves, not pass the buck to commissions that will never have to answer to the voters.

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