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Cambria v. Soaries

July 19, 2001

JUDITH CAMBRIA AND THE LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS OF NEW JERSEY, INC., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS
v.
DEFOREST B. SOARIES, SECRETARY OF STATE OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY AND JOHN J. FARMER, JR., ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Poritz, C.J.

Argued October 23, 2000

Decided October 25, 2000

On appeal from the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 334 N.J. Super. 437 (2000).

This appeal arises from an effort by the Legislature to have placed on the general election ballot for November 2000 a resolution to amend the New Jersey Constitution to dedicate certain revenue streams for use in the construction and repair of the State's transportation system. The issue before the Court is whether the resolution as framed violates Article IX, Paragraph 5 of the Constitution, referred to as the "separate vote" requirement, which provides that the Legislature must present "more than one amendment" to the voters "separately and distinctly."

The proposed amendment to Article VII, Section 2, Paragraph 4 addressed by the resolution at issue, Concurrent Resolution No. 1 (the Resolution), provided for the dedication of two new revenue sources to the Transportation Trust Fund (Fund): specified amounts from the gross receipts tax on the sale of petroleum products and specified amounts from Sales and Use Tax receipts. As with a 0.025 cents per gallon tax on the sale of motor fuels already constitutionally dedicated to the Fund, the new revenue streams would be used only for activities related to the construction or repair of New Jersey's transportation system.

Plaintiffs, the League of Woman Voters and its Director of Fiscal Policy (the League), challenged the Resolution as unconstitutional, being of the view that by combining the two proposed changes to the Constitution (dedication of two new revenue streams) in one ballot question, the Legislature was depriving voters of their constitutional right to approve one change and reject another.

The League filed suit in the Superior Court, Law Division seeking a declaratory judgment that the Resolution violated Article IX, Paragraph 5 and a permanent injunction against placing the Resolution on the November 2000 ballot. The Secretary of State and the Attorney General moved to dismiss the League's Verified Complaint for failure to state a claim on which relief could be granted. The trial court denied the League's request for injunctive relief and granted the motion to dismiss the complaint on August 4, 2000.

The League appealed to the Appellate Division, which affirmed the judgment below on October 10, 2000. The League then filed a notice of appeal as of right with the Supreme Court pursuant to R. 2:2-1(a)(1). After hearing oral argument, the Court, by Order filed October 25, 2000, affirmed the judgment of the Appellate Division. No opinion was filed at that time due to the proximity of the general election. The Resolution was submitted to and approved by the voters on November 2, 2000.

Held: Concurrent Resolution No. 1 and the constitutional amendment it proposes do not violate the "separate vote" requirement or the "single object" test of the New Jersey Constitution because the two proposed changes to the Constitution are closely related to each other and serve the same purpose.

1. Article IX, Paragraph 5 of the Constitution is subject to multiple, reasonable interpretations; therefore, it is appropriate to consider other related provisions of the Constitution and other sources to ascertain the intent of the framers of the Constitution. In this case, the "single object" rule, located in Article IV, Section 7, Paragraph 4 and Article VIII, Section 2, Paragraph 3, is looked to. That constitutional rule is intended to ensure relatedness among the components of legislative acts. The parties and the courts in this case agree that the Resolution meets the single object test because only one provision of the Constitution is affected and the changes within that provision further the same purpose: increasing the future stability of the Fund by dedicating additional monies to it. (pp. 8-14)

2. The history of Article IX reveals evidence of the framers' intent in respect of whether the provision at issue requires more than the relatedness test of the single object rule. That evidence suggests that the framers did not intend so narrow a reading as urged by the League. ( pp. 15-17)

3. At least twenty-nine other states have "separate vote" requirements to amend their constitutions and although there are wide variances in the way state courts have interpreted those requirements and "single object" requirements, there is a general recognition that the primary goal underlying such requirements is the prevention of "logrolling." Logrolling is the legislative practice of combining unrelated popular and unpopular proposals because voters will approve the entire proposal in order to have the portion of the proposal they favor pass. These requirements also may prevent the submission of misleading or confusing amendments. (pp. 17-23)

4. The Court favors and adopts the approach of the Oregon Supreme Court on the amendment issue because it comports with the constitutional history of Article IX, Paragraph 5 in that it incorporates the single object test and because it recognizes the seriousness of amending a constitution by requiring closer scrutiny of the relationship between the parts of a proposed amendment than does the single object test. (pp. 24-25)

5. The "separate vote" requirement of the New Jersey Constitution requires that any proposed amendment must not make two or more changes to the Constitution unless they are closely related to one another. The amendment as structured and proposed by the Resolution constitutes a reasonably integrated whole in which the parts are closely related to one another. (pp. 25-26)

The judgment of the Appellate Division is AFFIRMED.

JUSTICES STEIN, COLEMAN, LONG, VERNIERO, LaVECCHIA and ZAZZALI join in CHIEF JUSTICE PORITZ's opinion.

PORITZ, C.J.

This case involves a provision of the New Jersey Constitution that establishes the mechanism by which the Constitution may be amended. We have been asked for the first time to interpret the requirement set forth in Article IX, Paragraph 5 that the Legislature must present "more than one amendment" to the people "separately and distinctly." In specific, plaintiffs contend that Article IX, Paragraph 5 prohibits the dedication of two types of state revenues to the Transportation Trust Fund in one amendment. We hold that under the standard set forth in this opinion the separate vote requirement of Article IX is not violated by an amendment so structured.

I.

On June 30, 2000, Concurrent Resolution No. 1 (the Resolution) was filed with Secretary of State Deforest B. Soaries for certification and submission to the Division of Elections. The Resolution had been approved overwhelmingly by both the Senate (thirty-seven to one) and the Assembly (seventy-eight to one) just days earlier on June 26 and June 29. It called for a proposed amendment to Article VIII, Section 2, Paragraph 4 of the New Jersey Constitution to be placed on the November 2, 2000 ballot. That provision, in its pre-amendment form, stated:

There shall be credited to a special account in the General Fund for the State fiscal year in which the amendment to this paragraph is approved by the voters an amount equivalent to the revenue derived from $0.025 per gallon from the tax imposed on the sale of motor fuels pursuant to chapter 39 of Title 54 of the Revised Statutes, and an amount equivalent to the revenue derived from $0.07 per gallon from the tax shall be credited to the account in each of the first two State fiscal years commencing after the approval of the amendment to this paragraph by the voters, and an amount equivalent to the revenue derived from $0.08 per gallon from the tax shall be credited to the account in the third State fiscal year commencing after the approval of the amendment to this paragraph by the voters, and an amount equivalent to the revenue derived from $0.09 per gallon from the tax shall be credited to the account in the fourth State fiscal year commencing after the approval of the amendment to this paragraph by the voters and annually thereafter; provided, however, the dedication and use of such revenues as provided in this paragraph shall be subject and subordinate to (a) all appropriations of revenues from such taxes made by laws enacted on or before December 6, 1984 in accordance with Article VIII, Section II, paragraph 3 of the State Constitution in order to provide the ways and means to pay the principal and interest on bonds of the State presently outstanding or authorized to be issued under such laws or (b) any other use of those revenues enacted into law on or before December 6, 1984. These amounts shall be appropriated from time to time by the Legislature, only for the purposes of paying or financing the cost of planning, acquisition, engineering, construction, reconstruction, repair and rehabilitation of the transportation system in this State and it shall not be competent for the Legislature to borrow, appropriate or use these amounts or any part thereof for any other purpose, under any pretense whatever. [N.J. Const. art. VIII, § 2, ¶ 4 (amended 2000).]

In addition to the 0.025 cents per gallon tax on the sale of motor fuels already constitutionally dedicated to the Transportation Trust Fund under Article VIII, Section 2, Paragraph 4, for use in the construction and repair of the State's transportation system, the amendment proposed the dedication of two new revenue streams for the same purpose: a minimum of $100,000 from the gross receipts tax on the sale of petroleum products in the first year, to be increased to $200,000 in every year thereafter; and a minimum of $80,000 from Sales and Use Tax receipts in the first year, to be increased to $140,000 in the second year, and to $200,000 in every year thereafter. According to the Interpretive Statement to the Resolution, the amount taken from Sales and Use Tax receipts would reflect approximately one-third of the tax collected from the sale of new motor vehicles.

Prior to the final approval of the Resolution by the Assembly, Sandra L. Matsen, President of the League of Women Voters of New Jersey, Inc. (League), and Judith Cambria, the League's Director of Fiscal Policy, wrote to and testified before the Assembly Appropriations Committee, expressing their belief that the Resolution was unconstitutional. They argued that by combining the proposed changes in one question, the Resolution deprived ...


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