Constitutional Conventions: A Political Boondoggle?

In Columns by Hal PetersonLeave a Comment

Back on July 20th, the LI Herald published a column titled “A convention could be good for New York – or not.” It raised the following point i.e. “you would think that holding a convention to review and rewrite the New York State Constitution would be a no-brainer.” It is obviously not. Our Constitution, one of the longest and most detailed government documents of any state in the union, has been has been amended (via a convention) only six times in the past one hundred years.

What’s likely on November 7th? In my opinion, while conventions have a noble purpose, many voters are not likely to enmesh themselves in the details of what’s involved. Why bother, saying ‘no’ takes only a moment. Vested interest voters will also anxiously join the parade. They are convinced that the establishment of a convention will open up Pandora’s Box and lead to the loss of hard earned, extremely beneficial entitlements’.

Two peripheral considerations are also in play. One, our elected officials will not support any possible relegation of authority that does not serve their own best interest’s, hardly encouraging us to become co-contributors in altering the affairs of state. Two, my own personal favorite for saying ‘no.’ During the last convention, the vast majority of delegates participating were political figures representing almost every level of political office in the state. Not exactly fertile ground for making changes.

Where does all of the above leave us? Back to square one and a desperate need for “we the people” to understand what is at stake if inaction continues to rule the day. With the legislature convening in just a few short months and, a convention option a bad afterthought, consider the need for following:

A Constitutional Limit on State Debt:  Amend Article VII of the constitution to ban “backdoor borrowing” on behalf of the State by public authorities, and require the approval of all new State debt by the Legislature and voters, before issued.

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. As a result, we now witness some of the most porous campaign fund-raising laws in the nation. 

Term Limits:

Article III of the constitution “empowers the legislature to govern term limits.” In the opinion of many good government groups, “entrenched Albany incumbents currently have a virtual stranglehold on the affairs of state government often operating with their best interests in mind.” Currently, fifteen states have some level of term limits’ in place.   

Control public employee compensation: 

In 1982, labor unions successfully lobbied for an amendment to the Taylor Law to require all provisions of a public employee collective bargaining agreement to remain in effect even after the existing contract had expired. That law, known as the Triborough Amendment, gives public employees an incentive to hold out when management is seeking contract concessions. As a result, personnel costs are the single largest spending category for New York’s municipalities and school districts. Repeal of the Triborough Amendment is thus a top priority. 

Alzheimer’s Research Funding:

Alzheimer’s is the nation’s sixth-leading cause of death and decades of research have not produced a single drug that alters its course. As “baby boomers” age, the numbers of Americans currently living with the disease will explode from 5 million to 14 million in 2050, and costs will increase from $283 billion in 2013 to $1.2 trillion in the same period. This illness imposes massive care and expense concerns on the families involved, much of which is not recoverable. The monies needed must be included in the governor’s budget, starting in January.

Providing Electors with the Power of Initiative and Referendum:

The New State Constitution does not allow any form of citizen initiated ballot measures and, as such, the electorate is excluded from influencing change. In 2016, 162 statewide ballot measures have been certified in 35 states, 71 through signature petitions.

Please contact me using my web site if you disagree or, would like to add to the commentary. Hal Peterson




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