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The Answers

A column on education in Watkins Glen

The following was written by Travis Durfee, President of the Watkins Glen Faculty Association. It is the ninth in a continuing series of monthly columns.

The Con in the Constitutional Convention

You overhear it in the hallways of the high school every now and again:

Do you ever get the feeling that people are throwing a party and you aren't invited?

It's every kid's worry--being left out of something really important.

It should be your worry, too, because political insiders in Albany are planning a big bash under the guise of a constitutional convention. And, no, you aren't invited.

Luckily, you can stop the whole shebang with a single vote. New York State does not need a constitutional convention. Vote no on Nov. 7.

Every 20 years voters in New York are asked whether the state should convene a delegation to revise the state's constitution. This fall New Yorkers have that choice.

If New Yorkers vote "yes," so begins the process of selecting delegates to convene in Albany to scrutinize, edit, and revise every aspect of the state's constitution. Who will be the delegates? Likely a hand-picked roster of lobbyists, political insiders and their ilk. While you may hear some refer to a "people's convention," history tells a different story.

The last convention in 1967 saw 186 delegates descend on the state Capitol. According to the League of Women Voters, 62% of all delegates hailed from NYC and its suburbs. Nearly 40% of all delegates were sitting legislators or judges. Seventy-percent of all delegates belonged to the bar.

If you think Joe the Plumber from Tyrone, NY will mount a successful campaign against Albany's monied interests, I have a bridge across Seneca Lake that I can sell you. Real cheap. The convention, on the other hand, will not be.

Delegates to a constitutional convention, many of whom will already draw a salary from the state as sitting legislators, will collect additional pay as delegates at a rate equal to the current legislative salary in Albany: $79,500 per year, plus a $159 per diem. And delegates will have the ability to hire spouses and kin for staff, all at the taxpayers' expense.

The 1967 convention cost New York State taxpayers millions. Current estimates on a modern-day convention put the price tag in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Money well spent? Hardly: despite the work and the millions of dollars spent on the 1967 convention, all of the recommended revisions to the state's constitution were rejected by voters the following year. What a waste.

The boondoggle is even more egregious considering that a convention is wholly unnecessary if we want to revise our state's constitution. Voters can revise the state's constitution without a convention. The proof is on the ballot.

Next to the question about the constitutional convention on this year's ballot, voters will find two proposed constitutional amendments. One constitutional amendment addresses a wildlife preserve in the Adirondacks and the other amendment would revoke pensions from New York state workers convicted of crimes.

A proposed constitutional amendment must pass through both the Senate and Assembly for two consecutive years. It is then presented to the voters for a final seal of approval. And, then the constitution is amended, without the need for a costly convention.

So who wants a constitutional convention? Certainly not the Watkins Glen Faculty Association, nor our parent union, New York State United Teachers. The state constitution guarantees a sound, basic education to all of New York's children. We do not want to see this right under assault from those who want to reduce the state's obligation to supporting public education.

It may come as no surprise that lobbyists and insiders are in favor of the convention, which makes good sense. Imagine the billable hours for those tasked with revising the state's constitution? It's good work, if you can get it. Let's not give it to them.

You have a choice on November 7. Do you want Albany insiders to feast on your dime? The well-heeled and well-connected do not deserve a special party at our expense. Besides, there is all ready a process in place to revise the constitution. On November 7, vote no on the constitutional convention.

Travis Durfee
President
Watkins Glen Faculty Association

watkinsglenfacultyassociation@gmail.com

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