What Are We Voting No On in New York?
By now you've seen the signs all over Central New York lawns - VOTE NO. So what is the New York State Constitutional Convention? And what are we even debating?
For those of us who do not work in the public sector, it's not really clear what's at stake. My father, a retired teacher, first mentioned the Constitutional Convention a couple years ago. He was both very stern and very frightened. "Make sure you vote no when this comes up. I could lose my pension!" And I was skeptical. Why is it a foregone conclusion that a Constitutional Convention would axe public pensions? What else could they be considering to change? Who are these people that are going to potentially make these changes?
It may seem to some that it's just a knee-jerk reaction from the "Vote No" crowd. This article is not made to sway you either way, but to provide a little more insight into what will be included on the ballot on November 7, 2017 and beyond.
According to the New York State Constitutional Convention Clearinghouse, voters across the state will have the chance this November to decide whether or not we should hold a convention to amend the constitution. This automatically appears on the ballot every 20 years unless it's called for early, which happened in 1965, the last time a Constitutional Convention was held. After the convention, New York State voters still have to vote on the amendments that the convention proposes.
So we're not voting about pensions right now. Why do we think that pensions will automatically be an issue? There are other things the Convention may address that could protect us from corruption in government. Michael Benjamin of the New York Post says:
Potential improvements include: reforming the election law; achieving nonpartisan redistricting; setting term limits, and mandating transparency in budget-making. (New York Post)
Sounds great in theory. But there is no way to know what parts of the original constitution could be updated when the delegates sit down.
And who are these delegates? On November 6, 2018, New York State voters will elect the delegates who represent us. That is, IF the convention is approved. Will these delegates be accurate representation? Or will they be paid by special interest groups to sway the amendment process? Will they be more of the same political cronies we already have representing us? Sorry, I don't have any answers on this.
How many delegates will be elected? According to the New York City Bar, the last convention had 186 delegates, and of that number 13 were legislators and 24 were judges. That means they were already collecting a State salary and being paid additionally for about 6 months of work. How much? NYC Bar says if we have a convention starting in April 2019, they would receive nearly $80,000. According to the League of Women Voters of New York State, it could cost taxpayers between $50-100 million for the whole convention.
That is a huge expense for what MIGHT propose meaningful change for some, or MIGHT propose disastrous change for others. Can't we just propose amendments without a convention?
There are many different groups that have taken sides in this debate and it makes it even more confusing to decide which side you're on. The League of Women Voters think you should vote yes. Teachers, public employees and unions clearly think you should vote no. The Adirondack Mountain Club and many other conservation groups think you should vote no, because the Convention MIGHT eliminate some of the Forever Wild protections. Firearms advocates also want you to vote no, to prevent further gun control laws. Groups that advocate for legal marijuana want you to vote yes. And the Conservative Party of New York State wants you to vote no. There is a full list of organization who have a public stance on the matter at the NYS Constitutional Convention Clearinghouse.
It's clear that people are passionate about this issue, but many people still don't know what to think. The Democrat & Chronicle mentions that one popular belief about Con Con is completely false. What happens if you don't vote on the issue at all or completely miss it on the ballot? Will it be counted as a "YES"?
If you don't vote on the convention question on Nov. 7, it is just recorded as a "did not ballot" and is not included in the vote total. Just as in any other vote. (Dick Moss - Democrat & Chronicle)
Still confused? So are we. But there's lots more to read at the New York State Constitutional Convention Clearinghouse.