By DEBORAH A. MILES
Voters in New York State will have a referendum concerning the question, “Shall we have a convention to revise the constitution and amend the same?” to consider on the November 7, 2017 ballot.
Although November may seem to be in the distant future, unions and organizations throughout the state are starting to educate the public. This referendum is only voted on every twenty years, leaving a majority of voters with no clue how it would affect their lives if the state constitution was revised.
The constitution sets the most important policy goals for the people of New York State. Any changes would affect every other law in place, as well as future statutes. A convention would place everything on the table, and delegates would have the power to change policies, programs and protections.
If you are a state employee, you may be aware that your pension could be in jeopardy, and would be more apt to vote no. Non-state employees, some who have “pension envy,” are the people unions are trying to educate and to get them to cast a “no” vote.
One strong argument, besides the facts that a convention could eliminate every New Yorker’s right to a free public education, or destroy the “forever wild” environmental safeguards for regions in the Catskills and Adirondacks, is the cost.
If the referendum passes on the November 7, 2017 ballot, 204 delegates would be elected at the next general election in November 2018. The convention would meet in Albany in 2019.
The delegates typically include members of the Legislature. They can remain a state senator or Assembly member while being a delegate, and collect a $79,500 salary for each job, even if the convention lasts three months or three hours.
That is one reason why this convention has been dubbed the “politicians’ convention,” and for the delegate’s ability to alter the balance of power, which could significantly weaken the role of the Legislature.
In 1967, the taxpayers picked up the tab for the convention, and they also rejected all the proposed changes. They voted to keep the right to be a union member and to bargain collectively, the provision for workers compensation and that the state provide for social welfare needs.
New Yorkers also rejected the convention’s proposed repeal of the Blaine Amendment, which would have greatly altered public education in New York State.
“PEF has joined with the New York State United Teachers and other labor unions in a collaborative effort to educate the public and to point out that these conventions are a waste of money,” said PEF President Wayne Spence. “There is so much on the line not just for unions, but for everyone, if a convention takes place. With all the changes occurring on a federal level, we need to ensure that the things and benefits gained by the labor movement, educators, social justice groups and environmentalists remain intact.”
To help stimulate conversations around the state and sway a “no” vote to the referendum, PEF’s Training and Education Department has prepared a special workshop on the constitutional convention. The training has already taken place at PEF leadership conferences, and is available to PEF regional coordinators for membership meetings.
The educational workshop shows you the best ways to open the subject, how to present just the facts, and tips on educating the public such as writing letters to the editor of your local newspaper.
For more information or to schedule a training, contact gro.f1493522383ep@on1493522383asicc1493522383olk1493522383 or gro.f1493522383ep@ye1493522383nract1493522383.