Why not do it right! New York’s Upcoming Constitutional Convention Referendum

In Columns by Hal PetersonLeave a Comment

Wouldn’t it be grand if we could take a magic wand and sweep it across the political landscape of state politics, and personally contribute to meaningful reform? Your wish has been granted, and as provided for in Article XIX, Section 2 of our state constitution, in 2017, we will be asked to respond to one fundamental ballot question: “Shall there be a convention to revise the constitution and amend the same?” Yes or no!

If approved, starting in April of 2018, three electors from 63 senate districts, and 15 at-large delegates will meet, and any amendments adopted will then be placed on a ballot for approval on November 7, 2019.

If history be the guide, we are in for a long and torturous ride down a rather bumpy road. The last referendum was held in 1997 and voted down by 62 to 38 percent majority, and no convention has been called since 1967.

Why? Two factors. One quoting from a column written by the New York Law School last December, “the convention process has been the victim of stalemate, caught between supporters desiring institutional reform and opponents   reluctant to risk the weakening of existing protections to their interests.” The second, the ballot proposals’ up for vote (in 1997) were so innocuous, whether passed or not, made little difference.

We cannot go down this path again, too much is at stake. The following seven potential ballot proposals require our awareness and the attention of the delegates at any future convention:

Public-Sector Pension Payments: Article V, Section 7 of the constitution considers such payments a “contractual relationship the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired.” First introduced in 1938, its current applicability is unrealistic by any standard of measurement. Contracts, of this type, should not be written in stone. Violate the public trust, lose your public pension.

Term Limits: Article III of the constitution empowers the legislature to govern term limits. In the opinion of many good government groups, enacting term limits would break the virtual stranglehold that entrenched Albany incumbents have in state government. Our elected officials periodically propose changes as noted in Senate Bill S-2722- B & Assembly Bill’s A- 4617 & 4662.  Currently fifteen states have term limits in place.

Back-door borrowing: Currently, approximately 95 percent of State-Funded debt   (totaling some $257 billion) is issued by public authorities with little oversight, and without voter approval. A very serious problem that needs to be addressed.

Pension Calculations: Pension payments for public employees are augmented through the application of costly add-on’s, including but limited to unused vacation time, sick leave, and even unused personal time.  A ballot amendment is needed to stop these costly allowances. Last addressed in Assembly Bill’s A 07606, and A07773.

Campaign Finance Reform : In 1996, the New York State Board of Elections quietly created a gigantic loophole in the state’s campaign finance laws when it decided that Limited Liability Companies (LLC’s) be treated as individuals rather than corporations. This change thwarts the underlying purpose of New York’s campaign finance system, making contribution limits and disclosure requirements extremely easy to evade. New York now has some of the most porous campaign fund-raising laws in the nation that should be shut down through the use of an amendment to Article III of our state constitution.

The Triborough Amendment: In 1982, labor unions successfully lobbied for an amendment to the Taylor Law to require that all provisions of a public employee collective bargaining agreement – including automatic annual pay increases – must remain in effect even after a deal expired. That law, better known as the Triborough Amendment, gives public employees an incentive to hold out when management is seeking contract concessions. Repeal of the Triborough Amendment is thus a top priority for controlling public employee compensation.  Ref: Empire Center “Check List for Change: Policy Priorities for NY.”

Alzheimer’s Research Funding: Dementia afflicts some 47 million people around the world with losses totaling some 1.5 million individuals in 2015. Studies indicated this number will increase to 75 million over the next 13 years. Most drugs to treat symptoms are than a decade old, and currently there is no cure in sight. Last year, two bills were sponsored by the legislature to authorize $1 billion in research spending, neither of which gained approval to be voted on in the 2018 general election.  The overall cost of medical and physical care is astronomical, and the impact on caring families emotionally and physically devastating. A priority concern. Reference: Bill Numbers A-2807 and S-5237.

In closing, when campaigning for office in 2010 Andrew Cuomo supported convening a convention suggesting it be held “after, rather than before the referendum, to make rather than exclusively solicit recommendations.”  This is completely unacceptable. This column will be forwarded to his office for a response. Can I count on reader support?

 

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