On November 7, 2017, New Yorker voters will be asked if the state should hold a convention to re-write the New York State Constitution. Such a convention could cost taxpayers over 300 million and could allow devastating changes to our constitution. Who is driving this idea & why?
Those in favor site the need for ethics reform and limits on gerrymandering while those against question the wisdom of opening the constitution up to alteration by the same corrupt big money players that currently hold the public good hostage in Albany. Well-financed pro-convention groups are trying to dominate the early discussion and mislead voters with false advertising claims that this will be a “people’s convention”.
There is currently a process in place to change the NYS Constitution that has been used over 200 times since 1984. The state legislature creates referendum questions for the ballot during general elections and citizens decide. A number of ballot questions were voted on in 2013 including the constitutional change needed to build the Del Lago Resort & Casino in Waterloo. When a process to change the constitution currently exists why risk giving entrenched politicians and big money influencers access to alter constitutional protections for workers, the environment, women, minorities and schools?
The Adirondacks Mountains are protected by a ‘forever wild’ clause in the constitution. Lobbyists say that those protections are ‘unlikely’ to be altered. Frankly, ‘unlikely’ is not good enough when we see federal parklands being sold off, mined and privatized. The constitution also protects pensions, public education and the right for working people to organize and collectively bargain. Women & LGBTQ people should be concerned about the introduction of “Religious Freedom” clauses and the use of tax funds for religious schools. Gun control, women’s reproductive rights and protective tax limits for the wealthiest would be on the table.
A constitutional convention is ripe for abuse. It’s a financial boondoggle enabling system-savvy politicians to make up to an extra $80,000 annually on top of the salaries they already receive. There is no timeline to complete delegate work or limitations on who they can pay to “assist” them. Taxpayers will get stuck with the tab. The money spent on a Constitutional Convention would be better spent investing in our schools, our crumbling infrastructure and vital public services.
Survey data has shown that when voters are presented with the facts regarding a constitutional convention, they overwhelmingly oppose it. I hope you will too.
President, CSEA Local 828 Monroe County