State Convention is Nothing but a Con
As Featured in the Shawangunk Journal
By Anthony Figliola
Earlier this month the Mamakating Town Board was cajoled into voting for a resolution to support a state constitutional convention without being provided all of the facts.
Every twenty years, voters are given the opportunity to make a decision on whether to hold a constitutional convention or not, with the next vote being held on November 7, 2017. In theory, a convention would bring together citizen delegates from across the state to consider a variety of possible reforms to the constitution. Many civic minded New Yorkers believe a conclave is an opportunity to pass state ethics reform, which some believe would provide a major blow to the corruption plaguing state government. Unfortunately, history has shown con cons are merely a carbon copy of a typical legislative session, resulting in nothing more than a costly government boondoggle.
It is important to note that in past conventions, elected officials, including state legislators, have served as delegates at the convention. These elected officials essentially “double dip”, collecting two salaries and significantly boosting their government pensions.
The most recent convention took place in 1967 and ended up costing taxpayers $47 million ($336.5 million today, adjusted for inflation), while producing zero changes to the constitution. With the exception of the 1938 convention, gatherings have faced partisan fighting and little progress on the issues that bedeviled the legislature during a regular session.
There is another way for Sullivan County residents to make changes to their state constitution. The statewide referendum process allows voters to cast their ballot on individual issues without having to face the financial burden of a convention. Over the past 100 years, over 200 amendments were added to the constitution through this process, including seven since 2013.
New Yorkers would be ill-advised to vote “yes” to an upcoming constitutional convention. The sure way to make changes to our constitution is by the voters participating in the legislative process, which begins in every January and ends in June.