Conservative Party leader calls convention 'colossal waste' of money
ALBANY — In November, New Yorkers could begin a two-year process that could mean change for the prevailing laws of the state.
The New York State Constitution mandates that every 20 years voters will be asked if they would like to hold a convention to amend the state’s constitution.
The question will appear on the ballot Nov. 7. If yes wins out, voters will elect three delegates from each Senate district to speak on their behalf. If not, the opportunity passes for another 20 years.
For the last year, factions have formed among elected officials and leadership of vested organizations, some opposed and some in favor, but all putting up a fight to spread their points of view.
State legislators have been among the most outspoken. Joe Errigo, a Republican assemblyman representing the 132nd District, is in favor of holding a convention.
“He supports it because that seems to be the only mechanism to address the corruption going on in Albany and the ethics issues. The Republicans in the Assembly have proposed several reform packages and bills that haven’t gone anywhere. The majorities haven’t taken them up,” Errigo spokesman Spencer Bernard said,.
However, Errigo solidly opposes some changes that could arise at a convention, Bernard said.
“If they were to go through a constitutional convention, he would not support any proposal that would reduce or impact public pensions or retirement benefits, and he would not support putting the state pension fund under the governor’s control,” Bernard said.
Additionally, Errigo would not support anything that threatens Second Amendment rights or open space protections, Bernard said.
Errigo’s stance falls largely in line with many Republican lawmakers. In June, Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb railed against those who oppose a convention.
“The governor, legislative majorities and high-powered special-interest groups have either shown no interest in a convention or are actively campaigning against holding one," Kolb said. The reason is simple – the Albany establishment does not like change, especially if its longstanding powers are threatened. But the fate of a Constitutional Convention should not be driven by political agendas or influence. It should represent one thing, the will of the people."
Assemblyman Phil Palmesano, R-Corning, is still undecided.
“I haven’t made a full determination,” he said.
But Palmesano is open to the possibility.
“If we’re going to bring about real reform for term limits, campaign finance, initiatives and referendum, the only way I think is through a constitutional convention. I don’t see leaders in the majority pushing to make those reforms,” he said.
Palmesano said he has reservations about attempts to erode Second Amendment rights.
The New York Conservative Party has lined up solidly against a state constitutional convention.
"It is important for voters to understand that the history of holding constitutional conventions proves they are a colossal waste of taxpayers' money that fails to accomplish what supporters claim," said Conservative Party Chairman Michael R. Long.
A resolution in opposition to a constitutional convention was adopted by the Conservative Party on Jan. 7, citing cost, vulnerability to special interests and failures of previous conventions.
“We have a hard time imagining that in 2017 we’re going to come out of this process with anything more conservative than the last time we made changes to the constitution. We’re driven by New York City politics and upstate has as lot at risk if we go into this convention with so little political power,” said Livingston County Conservative Party Chairman Jason McGuire.
He fears that the Cuomo administration and its surrogates could push issues like abortion as a constitutional right. The governor made similar appeals for a constitutional amendment back in January, to ward off pro-life efforts of the new presidential administration in Washington, convention opponents said.
All sides of the argument fear the ability of opposed interests bringing forward issues that would otherwise not be considered in the regular legislative process.
One such issue is the long-standing view by a minority that upstate and downstate New York should be divided. The Divide NYS Caucus said they want to bypass the legislative system for all the same reasons Republican representatives do.
“We have to stop fantasizing that the NYS legislators have the best interests of the people in mind, or will ever fix our broken government themselves … The main reasons Divide NYS Caucus is supporting a YES vote on NYS Constitutional Convention this November 7 is the ability of the convention to create term limits, budget reform, real ethics reform and the power to separate the state into two or three autonomous regions,” said a statement from Divide NY.
Information about the Constitutional Convention process can be viewed at www.newyorkconcon.info/.