The New York state constitutional convention has become a hot topic of the upcoming election, with proponents and opponents each presenting strong arguments on why to vote yes or vote no. The Editorial Board has taken both sides into account, and after considering the major arguments, we have decided to vote no on the convention.
The constitutional convention, which is voted on every 20 years, is a body of delegates who can add to or amend the state constitution at a meeting. If approved, it would take place in 2018, and the proposed changes would then have to be approved by voters in 2019. In 1997, the last time a “con con” was on the ballot, New Yorkers voted against it.
Some of the major proponents of the convention include the New York State Bar Association, the League of Women Voters of New York State and Citizens Union. One of the main arguments in favor of the convention asserts that it gives New Yorkers a once-in-a-generation opportunity to incite real change.
They argue that by voting yes, we will be able to hold Albany lawmakers accountable for corruption and dysfunction, advocating that improvements can potentially be made in terms of reforming election laws, nonpartisan redistricting, term limits and transparency in budget-making.
Additionally, if the convention occurs, any changes the delegates want to make will have to be eventually voted on by citizens. Proponents believe that the worst-case scenario will simply consist of citizens voting against any unfavorable amendments.
While proponents have taken a “why not?” approach to the convention, opponents — mainly consisting of unions and labor organizations — believe it could cause real damage to laws that are in place for protection.
Organizations and unions representing a variety of interests and political leanings, including the United Federation of Teachers, Planned Parenthood, Right to Life and the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, have all come out against the convention. Many of these organizations are opposed to the convention due to fears that existing labor laws, pension provisions, environmental protections and reproductive rights — to name a few — would unravel and leave New York in even worse condition.
Although the Editorial Board is also against the convention, we don’t believe it’s likely that these existing protections will be amended or repealed if the convention occurs — it’s improbable that New York would ever be stripped of important laws protecting workers, the environment and reproductive rights, and potential threats to these shouldn’t be exploited for political points.
But we do believe that the convention comes at a high monetary cost for New Yorkers — delegates who are chosen to attend the convention would be paid at a rate that’s the same salary as state lawmakers — $79,500.
This might be worth it if the delegates were different than the people who already have power in Albany, but they would be the same senators and assemblymembers who contribute to the current dysfunction and corruption. We would be sending incumbent politicians to the convention, and if these are the people who already remain complacent in Albany, then they will not enact the change we want to see simply because it is the constitutional convention. They will garner an additional spot on the payroll without giving additional advocacy to the voices of the people of New York.
New Yorkers already have the power to make change in Albany every two years — we can vote. If we’re not satisfied with what’s going on, we should elect new state senators when we have the opportunity to, instead of re-electing ineffective incumbents.
By the same token, New Yorkers have the power to decide whether or not to hold a constitutional convention. Although it’s hopeful to think that influential change will only come through the convention, there are more similarly effective and less costly methods — we urge you to vote no.