Taxpayer activist Robert L. Schulz, who won fame by challenging the legality of New York State's bonding practices, is now drawing considerable attention as a potential gubernatorial candidate.

On Wednesday, state Republican candidate George Pataki invited Schulz to meet with him to discuss state politics and efforts to place Schulz on the ballot as a candidate for governor. Supporters are gathering ballot-qualifying petitions for Schulz. During the meeting, Pataki asked the retired engineer to withdraw from the race.

Pataki is running against Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, a Democrat, in what many political observers say will be a tight race. Schulz, a fiscal conservative and frequent Cuomo critic, could help the incumbent by splitting anti-Cuomo votes.

"He said, 'This is a tight race, and I need all the votes I can get,' "Schulz said in a telephone interview about his talk with Pataki. "I told him that I think he's a nice guy and less arrogant than the current governor. But I made no commitment."

A Pataki spokesman could not be reached for comment.

As of yesterday, Schulz said he intends to run for the post, noting that Pataki said there will be no official challenge of his petitions. "I think there is going to be a third candidate on the ballot," Schulz said.

Schulz must gather 15,000 petitions to place his name on the November election ballot. He said he doesn't know how close he is to that number. In fact, Schulz said, he is not intimately involved in the effort, which is being spearheaded by former supporters of Ross Perot.

Schulz, who recently lost a bid to stop a $375 million bond issue sold by the state Thruway Authority, said he plans to run as a candidate for the "Constitution Party."

Radio personality Howard Stern yesterday dropped out of the race as the Libertarian Party candidate. Following Stern's announcement, Schulz said the Libertarians asked him to run as their candidate, a move Schulz said he would support if he can also run on the Constitution Party line.

Schulz has sued New York State, Cuomo, and state officials including Comptroller H. Carl McCall, charging that the sale of so-called appropriation debt violates the state constitution's voter approval requirement for the sale of state debt. These bonds are issued without voter approval by the state through its various bonding agencies.

Cuomo and other state officials readily admit that these borrowing issues are intended to circumvent the constitution's voter requirement. However, Cuomo maintains that the bonding procedure is perfectly legal.

Recently, the state's highest court rejected Schulz's claim that Tuesday's $375 million issue by the Thruway Authority, sold to finance state highway and bridge improvements, represented a constitutional violation.

Despite these losses, Schulz said he may have a greater influence on state borrowings and other financial matters if he can make them a campaign issue.

"There's a lot of common ground," Schulz said. "But I know that this state has been run by two parties, I know where they get their money from, and the influence all these special interests have, and I know both parties are beholden" to them.

Schulz said, however, that he will support the candidacy of Herbert London, who is running against McCall. Schulz said "Herb can clearly make a difference" in restoring fiscal health to the state.

State borrowing practices, as well as a recent plan by Cuomo and McCall to change those practices, in fact came up in his conversation with Pataki, Schulz said. He said Pataki does not support issuing bonds through state borrowing authorities or the debt-reform plan advocated by Cuomo and McCall.

The plan would force the state to develop a much-needed capital plan. It would also create a new form of state debt that would not need voter approval.

According to bond analysts and rating agency officials, the amendment would not force the state to scale back the volume of debt it currently sells. Schulz and other fiscal conservatives say the state sells too much debt, and New York's debt load has prevented the state from reducing taxes.

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