Pols say ‘Vote No’ on state charter changes

Weigh the pros and cons of the Constitutional Convention before the Nov. 7 general election.
Photo by Michael Shain
By Naeisha Rose

Democratic and Republican legislative lawmakers want their constituents to Vote No on a referendum on the back of the Nov. 7 general election ballot to change the New York State Constitution.

Changes to the state’s charter could lead to tweaks or a dramatic overhaul if a convention is held.

Every 20 years in New York there is a vote to decide whether to let the state’s Constitution remain or to alter it, according to New Yorkers Against Corruption, a bipartisan coalition of opposing groups, like anti-choice advocates and pro-abortion advocates who do not want to spend $300 million on a new treaty. They believe that the money could be spent on local issues that different communities face now instead of two years from now, which is when the convention would be held.

Most Democratic and GOP members in the Senate and Assembly and special interest groups fear opening the state charter would have dire consequences, like the loss of pensions, safety nets for the poor and current rights under the Constitution, according to NYAC.

Government reform groups like The Sanctuary State Project want people to Vote Yes, in order to fast-track legislation that could improve New York’s education system, reproductive rights and modernize the judiciary system, according to Art Chang, a member of the organization.

Liberals against a new charter fear New York will become an anti-union Right-to-Work state, like Michigan and Wisconsin, which allowed a convention and ended up with weakened unions, according to state Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans).

Electeds fear pensions won’t be protected without a strong union presence.

Protections in the current state charter guarantee rights and help for the needy, according to attorney Susan Welber of the Legal Aid Society. If a convention is held, she fears those safety nets will be removed for the impoverished.

“There is a right for people who are needy,” Welber said. “That is not a quote, but that is basically what it boils down to.”

This safety net protects people who may have lost a job, or who have disabilities, Welber said.

Even the $300 million required to hold a convention is spread out over the course of 20 years, Comrie believes the money could be spent on issues plaguing areas in southeast Queens and the state of New York right now.

He would rather allocate the money toward improving education, upgrading schools, and creating more job opportunities throughout his district and New York.

Planned Parenthood does not want the convention to be hijacked by anti-choice groups that try to restrict abortion rights since there is a GOP Senate majority in Albany which can determine the delegates to write policies to eliminate or roll back Roe vs. Wade.

Ironically, anti-abortion groups are among NY Against Corruption’s supporters, because they don’t want pro-choice organizations to increase abortion rights, in what is a predominantly a blue state.

Senate Leader John Flanagan (R-Smithtown) dreads the idea of a predominantly Democratic New York becoming even more progressive. He also wants to use the money for pressing issues.

“I think that if you went to the average person and said do you want to put that into roads, highways and bridges or education or health, I think people would do that,” said Flanagan.

Leaders of both parties, and unions believe the type of laws reform groups want already have a pathway to passage in the legislative process.

Chang also wants to end government corruption and prevent gerrymandering in New York State through a convention.

“Everything else that Mr. Chang talked about could be done, it could be done in a legislative vote,” said Dermot Smyth, the political action coordinator for the United Federation of Teachers in Queens. “You do not need to hurt our parents, our grandparents and people who are retired.”

Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at nrose@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

More from Around New York