Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Laying pipe

Alec Mackay might have landed high marks in Constitution 101 class for his recent sleuthing through New York’s governing document. But when it comes to understanding how government functions, the strident opponent of Saratoga County’s waterline may have just won himself a Supreme Court-sized dunce cap.

As contractors fearlessly blaze a road-sized swath through the forests and scrubland of Northern Saratoga County, Mackay is now arguing they’ve got no constitutional right to plow through the state park in Moreau. MacKay, president of the private Saratoga Water Services in Malta, found a loop hole in the document stating no public or private entity has any business mowing down acres of forever-wild land, no matter what the reasoning behind it is.

The claim, reported Wednesday in The Saratogian, comes nearly a decade after Mackay bitterly warded off county overtures to seize his business and just months after his lawsuits to thwart the pipeline were tossed. The pipeline stands to put a dent in his business, if it can eventually bring a flood of cheap water to the rest of the county. It will also be quite the black eye for the Luther heir and head of the Luther Forest Corporation, when the pipeline feeds the massive amount of water needed by AMD’s chip fabrication plant in the center of his forest.

Just six months ago, Mackay made a last ditch effort to hammer in a two-mile line from his well heads near Saratoga Lake. He offered the water at a rate 10 cents less than the county’s proposed $2.05 per 1,000 gallons. But by the time he reinvigorated his offer, there was too much at stake for the county’s Water Authority for them to turn around the Herculean project; too much work, too much political face and most of all, too much money.

More than 11,000 feet of pipe have been laid so far along the 28-mile project. And that’s just the pipe. Crews have sliced a three-mile path of arbor carnage through the woods off Daniels Road between Wilton, Greenfield and Saratoga Springs. Elsewhere, workers have poured the foundation for the 3,533-square-foot administration building and water filtration plant. The bulldozers of development are on the move and there’s not much to do but watch them with a certain degree of awe.

Mackay’s philosophy might be the same one he used back in 1998, when his flurry of lawsuits virtually bankrupted the authority into giving up their push to seize his water company. But today, there are some heavy hitters aboard the county plan who have banked a fair quantity of state and federal ducats on the pricy waterline, which estimates from five years ago placed at a cost of $67 million.

The money invested, however, is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s a fair amount of development that will befall northern Saratoga County once the tap is turned on. It’s perhaps the only reason the Board of Supervisors has so doggedly chased a seemingly ludicrous plan and continues to push forward despite legal challenges from a variety of different angles, including the constitutional one pushed by Mackay.

Here’s the problem: When it comes between the state Constitution and money, the courts have a habit of siding with the later. Just ask Joe Dalton and Republican state Sen. Frank Padavan. They were part of a coalition that rightly dubbed the so-called “video lottery terminals” what they are –slot machines. They also pointed out that the state Constitution expressly prohibited such machines, where something of value is inserted to play a game of chance. The courts initially ruled in favor of the Legislature’s 2001 law, which paved the way for thousands of the machines to be installed at the Saratoga Gaming and Raceway.

The coalition appealed the decision, which was somewhat upheld by the Appellate division of the court in 2004. Of course, the Spa City’s machines were already up and running by that time and plans were already in the works to bring in more. More than three years later, the argument over VLTs has bled into history, along with the Pataki Administration, which was instrumental in bringing them here in the first place. Now that the state sees the money generated by these devices, it would take an act of God –or the sudden death of all the region’s geriatric inhabitants –to remove them from the racinos.

There’s a similar situation at play with the county pipeline. The Water Authority is moving as aggressively as possible to get enough pipes laid that any effort to thwart it could be painted as a paramount waste of tax dollars. This sad fact will likely cause any circuit court judge to push aside such an argument rather than leave several miles of pipe rusting alongside the county’s rural northern roads. Much like the persistent trampling of the constitution, the pipeline is a sad fact of life these days, which county residents will eventually be forced to accept come hell or high water.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

HO: Very interesting constituional analysis. You say "the state Constitution expressly prohibited" slot machines. Only one problem: You're exactly wrong. It's not the Constitution that prohibits slot machines (even though the New York Times has been spreading that misconception for decades), It's the Penal Law Article 225 prohibition against "possession of a gambling device" that makes slot machines illegal; but the State Legislature can change that law at any time.

Rather than "expressly" prohibiting slot machines, the Constitution actually expressly allows them, together with many other kinds of gambling devices the Legislature can authorize for use in charitable games of chance that award prizes "on the basis of a winning number or numbers [e.g., three 7's in a row], color or colors [e.g., three gold bars], or symbol or symbols [e.g., three cherries] determined by chance from among those previously selected or played, whether determined as the result of the spinning of a wheel, a drawing or otherwise by chance [e.g., by a mechanical or electronic device]." See Article 1, section 9, subdivision 2.

Joe Dalton lost his constitutional challenge to VLT's and slot machines because the courts looked at this language in the Constitution and recognized that it describes not only roulette wheels and lottery drawing machines but also slot machines. That's why the courts decided the State Legislature could allow VLT's at racetracks (or anywhere else) and ratify slot machines at Indian casinos (or allow them anywhere else if run by non-profit charitable organizations).

Regardless of what the New York Times says, the Constitution has never expressly prohibited slot machines. Maybe you're spending too much time reading the Times and not enough time uncovering Republican boondoggles, like the Hudson River water project that's the ostensible subject of "Laying Pipe."

1:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

HO: Very tricky. Technically, you "personally didn't say anything about the legality of VLTs." But you did write that Joe Dalton and Frank Padavan "pointed out that the state Constitution expressly prohibited" slot machines," which, of course, it doesn't.

It's not necessary to amend the Constitution to allow the use of slot machines. The Constitution already "expressly" allows the Legislature to authorize charities to use slot machines because, in the words of the Constitution, slot machines are a method for awarding prizes "by chance" on the "basis of a winning number or numbers, color or colors, or symbol or symbols."

You ask what's the difference between playing blackjack on a VLT and playing blackjack with a dealer. There are a number of differences that could be identified, but a slot machine or VLT that's designed to mimic a blackjack game certainly offers a playing experience that's quite similar to playing blackjack at a table with a dealer. Isn't that obvious?

Who's Cornelius Bennett?

The term "boondoggle" is often used to refer to a "scheme that wastes time and money." On the other hand, it is sometimes used to refer to a scheme resulting from graft or concealed fraud, and you're right that the Republican controlled County government has made no secret of the fact that the Hudson River water system is intended to make it easier for builders and speculators - prime supporters of the local Republican Party - to spread development throughout the parts of the county that currently lack adequate water supplies.

3:27 AM  
Blogger Horatio Alger said...

Mmmkay…First, I personally didn’t say anything about the legality of VLTs aside from pointing out the argument Cornelius Murray made in the case. In short, this ain’t my battle, hommie. Let’s read carefully before getting your dander up. Second, if you were to ask me, I would tell you there’s no bloody difference between the slots you pump coins into in Vegas and the so-called VLTs you pump redeemable cards into at the racino, save for one thing: you can’t have slots in New York. Sure, make an argument for the “games of chance” sanctioned at Italian church festas and what not. But there’s a big difference between what goes on at the local parish and the scene one takes in at a place like Foxwoods.

Second, do you have any idea of the process the Legislature must undergo to change the state Constitution? It’s a lengthy and trying process that usually dies on the table faster than the 90-something VLT granny suffering a massive coronary after finally winning a round at the Racino. As for your last point, I’ll agree to disagree. You say the court found; I agree but with the caveat that the finding is basically as hypocritical as the state’s archaic gambling laws. Allow some gambling here and there; ban other forms now and then. My question to you: what’s the difference between playing blackjack on a VLT and playing blackjack with a dealer? And don’t say the cards.

Regarding this uncovering of the “Republican boondoggle,” I fail to see your point. The county hasn’t bothered to cover up anything here.

7:12 AM  
Blogger Horatio Alger said...

As usual, you argue for the sake of arguing. In the eyes of Dalton, Padavan and many others, you’re wrong. In the eyes of the courts, you’re right. They hashed it out for more time than I’ll bother with too with you, especially seeing as though you seem to think video crack “gaming” somehow is in a class of its own when it comes to gambling. My point: you put up money, you play a game, you often loose, period. It’s all the same thing: gambling. But I suppose that’s again more arguing for the sake of arguing.

Besides, the overriding point of this blog is not to point out the varying semantics of gambling. It’s to show how senseless it is to battle the state Constitution in court when there’s already money riding on the game.

Who’s Cornelius Bennett? Just one of the best pro linebackers this state has ever seen. Cornelius “Biscuit” Bennett is a former NFL pro-bowler who virtually led the hapless Buffalo Bills to four Super Bowls during the late 1980s and early-1990s. He’s in the College Football Hall of Fame for his play at the University at Alabama. You should really research these things with a bit of vigor before posing such questions.

And as oddly as it sounds, I think we’re on the same page here. Take a look through the archives and you’ll find similar statements such as “the Hudson River water system is intended to make it easier for builders and speculators - prime supporters of the local Republican Party - to spread development throughout the parts of the county that currently lack adequate water supplies.” Word of advice: I wouldn’t go bantering on about this too much. After all, one of those Republicans goes by the name “Skip” and is presently being embraced by a certain somebody attempting to smite the wretched. It would be a shame to give her enemies fodder for battle.

7:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

before we go pouring tens of millions of dollars away on a water plant, can someone explain to me how much water do we actually need. maybe we should make sure all our wells are running at a 100% first.

5:38 PM  
Blogger demroc said...

good question. how much will it cost. as much as some have tried to stop it, it is clear that construction is underway. i think before it was a race to see who would build first. the city or the county. gees we can't even afford a decent public safety building. and another good question to all of those out there willing to bust the city, promoting control. isit worth going broke so you can control what happens in charlton, don't think so. here's the other argument, we now sell water to two of the fastest growing areas, milton and wilton. so to prevent urban sprawl you want to turn the keys over to someone who has contributed the most to sprawl around us.
i can see this idea being worked out. we are dead set against any more urban sprawl." "me too". "i have an idea, lets build our own facility for an outrageous amount of money, then let a guy who will sell it to anyone take control of the water." why else would we need an 11 million gallon facility. talk about boondoggles. they're not just for republicans.

4:28 PM  

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