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December 4, 2008

LAWSUIT: Taxpayers' group gets day in court

A group of Western New Yorkers involved in a legal fight to end public handouts for private corporations took their case to Albany on Wednesday.

Local supporters of the so-called “Mother of All Taxpayer” lawsuit joined a caravan to the state’s capitol where the defendants’ motion to dismiss the case was heard by state Supreme Court Justice Michael C. Lynch.

The plaintiffs’ attorney, Buffalo lawyer James Ostrowski, said Lynch reserved decision in the case on Wednesday and his formal decision as to whether the case should proceed is expected in about 30 days.

“The state gives anywhere from $1 billion to $2 billion away to private interests,” Ostrowski said. “We think it’s bad policy, but we also think it’s illegal.”

The lawsuit filed by Lockport businessman Lee Bordeleau and 45 other taxpayers seeks to put an end to the state’s practice of providing public dollars to private companies for the purpose of economic development. The suit, filed in August, claims the state is constitutionally barred from providing gifts of state money or credit to private organizations. In addition, the plaintiffs maintain state officials are in violation of the state’s constitution whenever they fail to identify either the amount or purpose of funds included in the state’s annual budget. The plaintiffs have asked the court for an injunction that would bar the state from disbursing additional funds for economic development efforts and require companies named in the suit to return money they may have already received.

Before heading into court on Wednesday, Ostrowski and about 30 supporters of the lawsuit gathered for a rally on the steps of the state capitol, where they discussed aspects of their case and their suggestions for how funds currently being distributed to private interests could better serve New Yorkers. If their side prevails in court, the plaintiffs intend to lobby the state Legislature to use the billions saved on “corporate welfare” to help repeal the state’s gas tax of 32.4 cents per gallon.

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