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The chairman of the state Assembly’s corrections committee thinks it should be up to the voters to decide whether to enact Governor George Pataki’s $635 million proposal to build three new prisons.

Assemblyman Dan Feldman, a Brooklyn Democrat, said New York State doesn’t need 7,000 more prison cells, and planned to unveil a proposal this month that voters should have the right to vote on a prison bond-act referendum. He added that it’s irresponsible to pay for prisons through the Empire State Development Corporation., as Pataki plans to do, since voter-approved bonds have lower interest rates, explained Mindy Bockstein, Feldman’s legislative director

There’s no need for a ballot measure, countered Pataki spokesman Patrick McCarthy, because the voters signaled their approval of prison expansion when they voted Pataki into office in 1994.

Bob Gangi, Executive Director of the Correctional Association of New York, a statewide policy group, said he’d prefer to see the legislature kill Pataki’s proposal entirely, as it did last year.

“We don’t need to waste hundreds of millions of dollars on more prisons,” he said. “We need sensible reform of the mandatory sentencing laws that each year cause thousands of low-level non-violent offenders to be sent to state prisons.”

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