BY TRONE DOWD
A split audience of more than 120 Southeast Queens residents gathered at the Robert Ross Family Center in St. Albans Tuesday night to get a better understanding of the repercussions and advantages of a 2019 Constitutional Convention in New York State.The important vote is on the back of the ballot this November and gives voters the power to completely alter the future of the state. The Queens Tribune is dissecting the matter in a way that our readers can best understand both sides of the vote.
What is the Constitutional Convention?
The constitutional convention is a chance to revise and retool the state constitution as seen fit by a delegation of three representatives from each of the state’s 63 senate districts. The process is triggered by a revolving public vote that takes place every two decades.
As discussed at Tuesday’s meeting, the vote on whether to act on the chance is not an easy, black and white decision. In fact, many advocates on both sides of the argument agreed that there are advantages to the opposing side. The vote comes down to two principals: preservers and reformers.
Two Sides of the Constitutional Coin
On one side is the preservers, who believe that the Constitutional Convention is a risky investment, particularly during the current political climate. Although New York is known as a traditionally progressive state, many believe that those values would be put at risk with the currently conservative majority in the state senate.
Certain key rights provided by the New York State Constitution are often cited by those who oppose the convention. These include such workers rights as guaranteed pensions for the retired. While some argue that those rights would be safe, many have pointed to states such as Nevada and Michigan where conventions resulted in the downfall of working class benefits as corporations cut funding to retirement programs.
Another aspect includes Article 17, which provides less fortunate New Yorkers with a right to “public relief and care” in the form of shelter and treatment.
On the other side of the argument, reformers look to the convention as a means to mandate the needs of the people. Changes to the constitution could mean altering the political process in a way that would make passing legislation less of a fight. Reformers also believe that a constitution would give state politics a complete makeover by giving candidates running for office a fairer chance at campaigning and voicing concerns. They see it as a chance to push the state in a new direction—progressive, conservative or otherwise.
Reformers cite that many of the rights that New Yorkers enjoy today, including workers compensation and free education, are the direct result of past constitutional conventions. And while some reformers understand concerns over guaranteed pensions being altered in some way, they believe that unions would never allow that to happen in Albany without a fight. Overall, they believe that a 2019 Constitutional Convention is a chance to adjust an already archaic governing document now before it is up for its next public vote in 2037.
Be sure to check QueensTribune.com later this week to see where convention experts and elected officials stand on this important issue.