New York State officials have yet to decide on a launch date for a controversial bond issue by the state Thruway Authority, a sale originally slated for April.

The $400 million bond sale is part of Gov. Mario M. Cuomo's multibillion dollar transportation bonding program. Smith Barney Inc. will serve as senior manager for the offering.

Under the governor's plan, the state will sell appropriated debt through the Thruway Authority.

State officials have not had much success predicting a sale date for the issue. The April target was pushed to May because of a delay in the state budget. State officials then said the issue would be sold sometime after the adoption of the state budget in June.

But now state officials say other factors may cause a further delay.

Officials at the Thruway Authority have cited technical factors for their current indecision on the issue's sale date. Specifically, state officials are working out the details on how changes in the amount of revenues targeted to support the Thruway bonds will affect debt service coverage on the securities.

Wall Street bond underwriters say the changes, which came about during the lengthy budget negotiations, will have no impact on the bonds, but budget officials have yet to release information on the bond's coverage ratios.

"The legislature changed the revenue streams," said Frederick Clark, director of finance for the Thruway Authority. As a result, Clark said the authority must determine how the changes will affect the deal, which could be sold in August.

Wall Street sources say the deal could be delayed indefinitely due to a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of appropriated bonds.

The lawsuit, filed by upstate New York taxpayer activist Robert L. Schulz, says the pending Thruway issue is really state debt, and as a result, its issuance would be unconstitutional, because voter approval was not first received.

Schulz's case against the Thruway Authority is before the state's highest court, the Court of Appeals. He has challenged the constitutionality of state appropriated bonds in more than a dozen lawsuits, but has yet to convince the courts that he is right.

At the moment, Wall Street bankers are guessing when the court will make public its ruling. A ruling in the state's favor would overcome a major hurdle in selling the bonds, underwriters say.

Some say the decision will probably come in July, right before the court's August recess. Others say the decision may emerge later, potentially delaying the Thruway bond sale until the fall.

"The Schulz case is definitely an issue in the governor's office," one Wall Street source with knowledge of the matter said. "The decision is whether to go ahead now or wait until the Schulz issue is hopefully decided in favor of the state."

Claudia Hutton, a spokeswoman for the state budget division, said changes in the taxes supporting the Thruway bonds are forcing state officials to redraft the proposal's official statement, and pushing back the timing of the deal. She also said the lateness of the state budget postponed state debt issuance, forcing state officials to rethink their debt-selling schedule.

Hutton said that the Schulz case has "no effect" on the timing of the sale.

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