COST OF A CONVENTION
Opposition: “This “Politicians Convention” would be a multi-million dollar boondoggle funded by our tax dollars…and would give New York political insiders and special interest groups the opportunity to change our state constitution to benefit themselves. These are many of the same politicians and insiders who are mired in corruption scandals and regularly being marched out of Albany in handcuffs.” http://nonewyorkconvention.org/the-boondoggle/
“In fact, some estimates put the price tag at over $300 million. And there are only two ways to pay for it…either a tax increase, or to take money away from critical services like fire, police, or even our children’s education.”
“Today, conservative estimates suggest that another “Politicians’ Convention” could cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. That’s hundreds of millions of dollars that could be spent on education, health care, infrastructure improvements, or dozens of other investments that would be more important to New Yorkers and families all across the state. Isn’t that an awful lot of money to spend on an exclusive party for New York politicians, Albany insiders, and the corporate special interests…especially when we can amend our constitution without spending a single penny?”
Response: When Gerald Benjamin [https://www.newpaltz.edu/ocm/admins/benjamin.html] was at a State Bar Association panel event, he was asked what a state constitutional convention would cost in 2017. He responded that he had applied the Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI inflator to what the 1967 convention’s cost was and got $47 million. Casey Seiler of the Albany Times Union was also at the event and he either did not hear or did not realize that Benjamin had already adjusted for inflation, so he used the $47 million figure as the cost of the 1967 convention and then adjusted for inflation again. Consequently, others began to adjust for inflation based on the same number, leading to the popularization of a false potential cost of $350 million dollars.
Additionally, it is difficult to know whether or not the cost of the 1967 convention is an accurate guide for what a 2017 convention would cost, considering that 1967 was more than 50 years ago. However, one major expense of the convention is the cost of the delegates’ pay, which would likely be lower in real terms at a 2017 convention. This is because each delegate must be paid the salary of an Assembly member, and legislative compensation has gone up since 1967 far more slowly than the rate of inflation has.
Read more: http://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/7038-what-s-a-constitutional-convention-cost-we-can-t-afford-to-not-hold-one?utm_content=bufferafc3d&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer
$300 million cost of a convention has already been debunked as an urban legend. If we take the costs of the 1967 convention and apply the rate of inflation, the costs today would be about $47 million, a much more realistic number, and only three million dollars more than the recent cost of cleaning the façade of the state capitol. This is less than ten percent of the money the state could save each year by restructuring our court system like New Jersey and California have done.
There are other cost savings a people’s convention would propose in criminal justice reform and marijuana legalization, which would save the state and New York’s counties hundreds of millions of dollars a year as well.
The State Constitution requires delegates to get paid the same as State Assemblypersons, which is currently $79,000. However, the state legislature and the governor can determine other requirements, like the budget for staff and the like. The convention delegates will have a short time to do a great deal of very important work, and their decisions will all be public.
OTHER WAYS TO AMEND THE CONSTITUTION
Opposition: “That’s right. Rather than holding a big, expensive party for the politicians, we could make any needed amendments to the constitution—if any are indeed needed—through the normal constitutional amendment process. That would involve passage of amendments through two sessions of the Legislature and then approval by voters in a high-turnout November election. This process provides more checks and balances to the amendment process, gives regular people a bigger voice in the process, and costs taxpayers absolutely nothing. And it has been used roughly 200 times—an average of one or two amendments every year!—since the last major rewrite of the constitution, so it’s not some rare thing that is difficult to do.”
Response: I think it’s safe to say that amendments are needed to our constitution, and it is misleading to suggest otherwise and not address the real problems with our state.
There is no process that gives people a bigger voice than a state constitutional convention because throughout this process they have a say in what’s happening. They vote for the delegates and have the final say on any proposed amendments. You will also get more people who are not political office holders involved in the political process, as has been true throughout all of our previous conventions. Yes, our representative officials are supposed to act in our best interests, but that doesn’t mean that they always will. Who better to represent the people’s interests than the actual people of New York? Also, regular people will always have a voice in the convention because no amendment can be added without their final approval when amendments are voted on in November of 2019.
Yes, it is true that the constitution can be amended through the legislature, but the people have more say through a convention. Passing a bill through two consecutive legislatures and getting the governor’s approval is actually the hardest way in the entire country to pass a constitutional amendment.
Passing amendments through the legislature isn’t as great as you make it seem, also while that average is accurate, it doesn’t provide a clear representation of these amendments. Here’s some more truthful information:
- For the past 20 years, 1996-2016, the average number of legislative amendments has been less than one amendment per year. So sure, the average since the last major rewrite has been close to 2 per year, but the overwhelming majority of amendments (74.5%) were written more than 50 years ago!
- The amount of legislative amendments has significantly decreased since the last major rewrite of our constitution in 1894
- The vast majority of these amendments were small fixes or changes to the existing constitution
- Between 1943 and 1985, 14 amendments were passed (12% of amendments passed during this time), that simply gave the legislature the authority to do something
- Only ONE amendment having anything to do with healthcare was passed, and it was in 1969, and it related to loans for hospitals and similar facilities
- Only THREE amendments have anything to do with education, one from 1966 authorized the use of state lotteries to support education, another one from 1966 that allowed the legislature to provide for the education of the mentally ill, and one from 1977 that had to do with filling vacancies on the board of education
- Only TWO amendments were passed that have anything to do with civil rights, one from 1917 that related to suffrage (one of the only times something really important was passed), and one from 2001 that made the constitution gender neutral
- Of the 28 amendments that had to do with the environment, 17 were not focussed on environmental preservation, but rather constructing power-lines, highways, and ski routes on protected land or giving it away, including one amendment from 1973 that “increase the size of the land in the Adirondack and Catskill parks that the Legislature can dedicate for whatever purpose.”
- We have had more amendments relating to railroad grade crossing than we have had about civil rights or education (3 railroad grade crossing amendments, 2 each about civil rights and education)
- We have the same number of amendments regarding public officials refusing to give testimony as we do about either civil rights or education
- We have the same number of amendments permitting gambling in various capacities as the combined amount of civil rights and education amendments
- We have more amendments dealing with some form of indebtedness than we do dealing with education, health-care, criminal justice, and civil rights combined
- Only once has as amendment attempted to address bribery and abuse of privilege by public officers, back in 1962
- We have more amendments dealing with sewage than we do with education and civil rights combined
LOBBYISTS, NY INSIDERS, SPECIAL INTEREST GROUPS
Opposition: “Considering who is likely to be in charge of the “Politicians’ Convention”—the career politicians, the Albany insiders, and the corporate special interests—it is not hard to imagine how the rights and guarantees that we hold important could become trading chips to be cashed in for special favors, increased power, or future payoffs. Think of all the horse trading and log rolling that goes on in the course of a normal legislative session…and then imagine the same thing but with every constitutional right that we enjoy thrown into the mix. There is simply too much danger—too much at risk—for us to roll the dice and throw the politicians an expensive party that allows them to mess around with our basic rights.”
“In reality, a Constitutional Convention is likely to be taken over by the very corrupt politicians, lobbyists and well-funded special interest groups. In other words, a Constitutional Convention is likely to lead to more corruption, more influence by the special interests, and lobbyists making sure their client’s needs are the top priority.”
“In 1967, the last time New York threw one of these parties for the politicians, the Albany insiders threw themselves a big bash in which four out of every five delegates were career politicians and Albany insiders. In fact, every single politician who ran for a delegate seat in 1967 won a seat, and every single convention leader was a sitting legislator. So don’t let anyone tell you that this will be a “peoples’ convention”. It won’t be. And what happened in 1967? They racked up a huge tab running into the tens of millions of dollars (hundreds of millions in today’s dollars) that the taxpayers picked up, and absolutely nothing changed. It just keeps getting better, doesn’t it?”
Response: So the solution for the rampant corruption in Albany is to keep the status quo? This isn’t a reason to not have a convention, it’s the exact reason we need a convention. Only a constitutional convention – a group of people dedicated to performing one public service then losing their position — can reform Albany.
They won’t be running for re-election. They won’t be cowed by the special interests that so easily control Albany now. They will propose reforms that they think are best for the state, and leave it up to the voters to decide. All our most precious constitutional provisions – to requirement to help the needy, the Forever Wild environmental provisions, the labor bill of rights – were all products of past conventions. We can – we must – do the same job today.
QUESTION ON THE BACK OF THE BALLOT
Opposition: “Oh, and they put the question on the BACK OF THE BALLOT, so that you would be less likely to see it and vote on it! That’s right: somehow this question—which could affect every single citizen of New York in a huge way—is being placed on the back of the ballot, which means that many, many voters won’t even see it. If you think it is odd that an issue that would benefit the politicians and Albany insiders would somehow end up on the back of the ballot where only some people will be looking for it, you aren’t alone.”
Response: From the beginning our coalition has urged the New York Board of Elections to place the question regarding the convention on the front of the ballot. When it was announced that the question would appear on the back of the ballot, Evan Davis, the manager of the Committee for a Constitutional Convention, sued the New York State Board of Elections to obtain a court order requiring the Constitutional Convention Question be on the front rather than the back of the ballot. Not only does our coalition not decide where the question is placed, we have consistently fought for it to be on the front where it is most visible to voters.
RIGHT TO EDUCATION
Opposition: “Did you know, for instance, that our right to a free public education is guaranteed in our state constitution? It is. That means that every parent, every educator, and every student who has gone through or will go through New York’s public schools has a stake in this issue. But even if you or your family or your friends don’t have a direct connection to our public schools, those schools still have an impact on you. Quality public schools have been proven to improve the economy, to raise property values in a neighborhood, and to impact crime and public safety. The deterioration of our public schools would negatively affect every single community and person in New York, one way or another…and eliminating our constitutional guarantee to a free public education would seriously endanger the quality of our public schools. That is reason enough to be wary of this “Politicians’ Convention.”
Response: Actually, New York State’s Constitution requires the establishment of public schools, but doesn’t commit to any kind of educational standard. Even worse, New York State ranks Number 2 in the nation in educational inequality; the gap in spending between the 100 wealthiest districts and the 100 poorest districts in New York State is $9,796 per student. The current educational system relies disproportionately on property taxes rather than on state income taxes, guaranteeing major inequalities in education.
The New York State Constitution Education Amendment, which has not been updated since it was written 122 years ago, does not guarantee fair or equitable funding per student when taking into account Federal, local, and state money combined, nor does it put the burden on the state to provide additional services when student outcomes are different.
Opposition: “Or did you know that some of New York’s most environmentally sensitive areas—places like the Adirondacks and the Catskills—are safeguarded under the constitution’s “forever wild” protections? During a “Politicians’ Convention”, greedy and wealthy developers could use their influence and money to push to undo these safeguards in order to open up and exploit these valuable natural resources for their own profit. Why would we give them that opportunity?”
Response: First of all, the Forever Wild protections are a result of a previous New York State constitutional convention. We only have these protections because New Yorkers voted in favor of the opportunity to create them with a constitutional convention. The Forever Wild provision from the 1894 convention assures that the Catskill and Adirondack parks enjoy the highest degree of protection of wild lands in any state, and it is a proud model for the nation of environmental protection and conservation, and a great example of what can happen with a constitutional convention.
That being said, we have no right in our state constitution to a clean, healthy environment. We need to have a constitutional amendment that grants all New Yorkers a private right to clean and healthful air and water and the ability to seek redress through the courts when this right is violated. This will assure the protection of our other national resources for the benefit of present and future generations.
BALANCE OF POWER
Opposition: “The New York constitution establishes the basic organizational structure for state government as we know it. It governs the relationship between state and local authorities. It sets the most important policy goals for the people of New York State. And any changes to that constitution would affect every other law in place in New York, as well as future statutes. Some would argue that all those things need a serious overhaul, but whether you believe that or not, do you really believe that the politicians, Albany insiders, and corporate special interests who would be in charge of a “Politicians’ Convention” would really implement the changes that we believe we need…or would they simply consolidate their own power and influence and sell of our constitutional guarantees to the highest bidder?”
Response: We can’t trust the politicians in Albany, so let’s leave it to the politicians in Albany, argument is inherently illogical. Since the people will vote for all of the delegates and what the delegates do, the people will ultimately have control over the end results. Some of it may be approved, some may voted down, all approved, or all voted down. It is ultimately what the people desire. This extraordinarily democratic part of our constitution is in place to allow the people to take control from the politicians and make the changes that the politicians are too scared to make. Is the corruption going to end because of something corrupt politicians do or because of what the people do?
This is impossible because the public not only votes for all the delegates, they also vote to accept or reject any changes the convention proposes. The people have the power – not the delegates.
HOW LONG A CONVENTION TAKES
Opposition: “How long would a Constitutional Convention last?
There is no telling, because there is no set time limit. That means the cost of the convention could go up and up without anything even being accomplished.”
Response: The convention convenes in Albany on April 2, 2019. According to the existing constitution, the delegates will only be paid for one year – no matter how long the process takes. Most likely, the convention will complete their work in October of 2019 and the proposals will be voted on by the public on November 5, 2019.