On Nov. 7, New York voters will get a chance to vote on whether to hold a Constitutional Convention. It happens once every 20 years.
After initially expressing concern, Gov. Andrew Cuomo now supports the convention, but only if it is not dominated by elected leaders “who could protect the status quo.”
Assembly Speaker Carl Hestie, D-Bronx, and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, R-East Newport, are both opposed to the convention.
So where do elected officials and political leaders from Cattaraugus County stand on the question of whether to vote for a Constitutional Convention?
State Sen. Catharine Young, R-Olean, is urging voters to vote no on the proposition calling for a Constitutional Convention.
“A Constitutional Convention would be disastrous for upstate New York,” Young said. “The structure of the process ensures that most, if not all, of the delegates would be from New York City, which would allow the State Constitution to be rewritten in a way that unfairly favors a downstate agenda and issues,” the senator said.
“Additionally, the cost could be upwards of $50 million dollars — funds that would be better spent improving our schools, repairing our roadways, reducing taxes, promoting tourism or on any number of other valuable projects,” Young said. “I urge Western New Yorkers to vote against this ballot proposal on Election Day.”
If approved by voters on Election Day, delegates will be elected three months later — three each from the 63 Senate districts and 15 at-large delegates.
The Constitutional Convention probably would not convene until 2019 and any recommendations would be subject to an Election Day referendum after public hearings were held across the state.
Assemblyman Joseph Giglio, R-Gowanda, said, “I’ve had mixed feelings about it. I don’t necessarily think it’s worth the cost, so I’m against it.”
In a telephone interview from Albany Thursday, Giglio said, “I looked at it real close. We already have a way to amend the Constitution.” Two successive votes over two years by both the Senate and Assembly is enough to get a constitutional question on the ballot, he pointed out.
There are two constitutional propositions at top of the November ballot besides the Constitutional Convention question. One deals with public officials convicted of corruption forfeiting their state pensions. The other seeks permission to replace a small rural bridge in the forever wild Adirondack Park.
“Not one good thing came out of the last convention.” Giglio said. The public vote that followed turned down the recommended changes, he added. “It’s working the way it should now.”
There hasn’t been a Constitutional Convention in New York in 50 years. The last one in 1957 has been described as a field day for special interests.
Giglio said he was afraid that “There is too much special interest and not enough citizen input” in the campaign for and against the Constitutional Convention.
Cattaraugus County Republican Party Chairman Robert Keis Sr., said he doesn’t think now is a good time for the state to have a Constitutional Convention. “The country and the people are so divided right now.”
Keis, the longtime Mansfield supervisor, said was afraid a Constitutional Convention would wind up a New York City versus Upstate affair.
“We’re just so far apart on everything that reasonable compromise is probably impossible. Who knows if the country will get back together,” Keis said.
“Now is not a good time to be doing that (convention),” he said. “You don’t know what you are going to get. Half of the state is going to be very angry with what they get and half will think they didn’t get enough.”
With the “extreme liberalism Cuomo is pushing,” Keis said the convention would “probably go in a direction I don’t like.”
“It would be interesting, but probably make me angry,” he added.
Frank Puglisi of Lyndon, the county Democratic Party chairman, said the county Democratic Committee is not supporting the Constitutional Convention.
Two issues that have come up in the Constitutional Convention discussions involve a possible raid on the New York State Pension Fund, and getting rid of the bipartisan county election boards.
Under the state constitution, “They can’t touch the pension fund, which is 97 percent funded,” Puglisi said. “Constitutional Convention delegates could change and make it so the state could take money from the fund without repaying it,” Puglisi said.
Another issue is the possibility “that bipartisan county boards of election could be eliminated, leaving the election process up to the Secretary of State. There would be no (Democrat and Republican) checks and balances,” Puglisi said.
Bipartisan election boards in the counties are now mandated in the State Constitution, Puglisi said.
Lastly, Puglisi also brought up the expense.
“I’ve heard it could cost up to $250 million. That’s not cheap. The last time they spent $50 million on the convention and voters turned down the recommendations,” he said.
Puglisi said county Democrats “strongly urge voters in Cattaraugus County to vote no on the Constitutional Convention.”
(Contact reporter Rick Miller at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)