On the November 2017 ballot, New York voters will be asked to decide whether to call a convention to rewrite the New York State Constitution. The constitution mandates that this question be put to a vote every 20 years. If the measure passes, the state must then schedule another vote in 2018 to choose delegates for the convention.
This convention would open in Albany on April 2, 2019, and proposed changes to the state Constitution would likely be put before the voters in November 2019.
If this sounds like a long and cumbersome process, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. This is also a wasteful process that would give big business interests and anti-worker interests the opportunity to attack public services and the retirement security of the men and women who provide them.
A convention would cost taxpayers more than $300 million. That is a ridiculous price to pay to give special interests the opportunity to weaken public employee protections and slash government services.
If successful, these special interests would:
• do untold damage to our retirement security by changing pension laws to reduce retirement benefits;
• weaken the power of the state legislature on budget matters;
• restrict and redefine the state government’s role in providing services for those in need; and
• turn back the clock on workers’ compensation laws.
Do not be deceived by any romantic, theatrical imagery evoked by the phrase “constitutional convention.” Alexander Hamilton and Ben Franklin have left the building.
Imagine, instead, the too-real possibility of a convention dominated by special interests that could put New York on the same road as Michigan and Wisconsin, two former bastions of organized labor that are now “right-to-work-for-less” states where public employees’ rights have been stripped.
A constitutional convention would have far reaching, long-term consequences that threaten many of the benefits and services working New Yorkers depend on and expect — and once they are gone, it could take decades to get them back.
This editorial originally appeared in the July-August 2016 issue of Public Employee Press.