Legislators Wrongly Look To Weed And Winnings To Fix Fiscal Woes

Due to fiscal mismanagement and a worldwide pandemic, New York government faces a staggering $13 billion budget shortfall this year. There is talk that the Legislature may return to session sometime in August to address these major budgetary issues.

Various solutions to the state’s budget woes have been suggested. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has repeatedly called on the federal government to bail out the state, and it is possible that some federal assistance may be provided. Liberal Democrats are urging the Governor to approve tax hikes for the rich, but the Governor has resisted their efforts on the grounds that wealthy New Yorkers might move to other states to escape increased taxes.

Unfortunately, the revenue shortfall is generating renewed interest in two anti-family proposals: Recreational marijuana and online sports betting. Recreational marijuana advocates had hoped to persuade New York lawmakers to legalize the drug during the 2020 legislative session, and Gov. Cuomo called for full legalization in his 2020 State of the State address. However, elected officials have had difficulty reaching agreement on how marijuana-related tax money should be spent, and the COVID-19 pandemic ended the regular legislative session before such legislation could be finalized. Last month, Sen. Luis Sepulveda (D-Bronx) acknowledged that recreational marijuana might not be legalized in the near term, but asserted that the drug would eventually become legal and added that “when you consider the incredible deficits that we are going to have as a result of corona, all revenue streams are going to have to be considered.”

Online sports betting advocates are more hopeful about the prospects of legalization in 2020. According to the July 29, 2020 issue of The Buffalo News, Asm. Gary Pretlow (D-Mount Vernon)—the lead sponsor of the online sports betting bill—said, “‘It’s going to happen.’” However, Gov. Cuomo has taken the position that a state constitutional amendment would be needed to legalize online sports betting; on this issue, New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms believes he is correct. If Gov. Cuomo maintains this position, the Legislature could still legalize online sports betting in one of two ways. First, the Legislature could pass a constitutional amendment in two successive years and persuade voters to approve it at the ballot box. Second, the Legislature could pass an online sports betting bill, wait for the Governor to veto it, and attempt to override his veto with a two-thirds vote.

At New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, we oppose any effort by government to raise revenue by legalizing and promoting addictive behavior. For that reason and others, we stand against recreational marijuana and online sports betting.