Questions and Answers
What are some of the important provisions currently in the state constitution?
- The constitution contains certain provisions important to the quality of life, such as: free public education; collective bargaining; workers’ compensation; social welfare; the integrity of public pensions; and environmental protections, including forever wild; among others.
Can there be a “limited” convention to just fix the sections that need fixing?
- No. The convention delegates set their own rules and agenda. They cannot be limited regarding what they choose to examine.
How are the delegates selected?
- Delegates (3 from each Senate district) gain access to the ballot through the petition process, just as those running for a state office currently do. In the past, the at-large delegates (15) have not been voted for individually, but rather as a slate of candidates.
Who can be a delegate?
- Anyone who is eligible to vote may run to be a delegate, including legislators and other elected officials.
Elected officials are allowed to collect two public salaries (double dipping is not prohibited), and this inflated double salary can be included in “final average salary” when determining pension benefits. The last time a convention was held (1967), 80% of the delegates were public officials.
Convention Finances- Where does the money come from?
- The legislature is responsible for appropriating the funds to pay for the costs associated with the convention. Delegates are paid the same amount as is paid to current legislators ($79,000). Staff would be needed to assist the convention in its deliberations.
How much would a convention cost?
- We know that the 1967 convention cost $10M, and if that same convention were held now, it would cost approximately $75M, when adjusted for inflation. There most likely would be additional staff and other expenses beyond what occurred 50 years ago. It is not unreasonable to assume that a convention would cost $100M, or more.
And, there is no way of knowing when a convention would end. Delegates can stay convened until their “work is completed”.
Is there a commission in place to identify issues prior to having a convention?
- No. Governor Cuomo had proposed this item in the 2016-2017 Executive Budget, but it was deleted by the legislature. He did not propose anything this year, and now opposes a convention.
There is no comprehensive list of issues that a convention should consider.
Have other state officials taken a position on convening a convention?
- Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins all oppose it. Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb supports holding a convention.
Is the question of holding a convention determined by a majority of those voting in the 2017 election?
- No. The question of convening a convention appears as an issue on the ballot, similar to a proposal that actually amends the constitution. The question is decided by a majority of those who vote on the question.
In 1965, the last time such a ballot question was approved, the vote was 1,681,483 in favor and 1,468,431 opposed. An additional 2.9 million people (48%) voted in the election, but skipped the ballot question.
Can the constitution be amended without holding a convention?
- Yes. The constitution may be amended if a proposal is passed by two consecutively elected legislatures, and approved by voters. As a matter of fact, since 2013 there have been eight proposed amendments to the constitution, with seven being approved by the voters (including casino gambling).
Are there any big elections happening this year?
- Yes. The Mayor of the City of New York as well as the mayors of the major upstate cities are up for election. Overall statewide turnout is expected to be low.
How often have we have had constitutional conventions?
- Constitutional conventions are very rare. In the past 100 years, there have been three: 1915, 1938, and 1967. All three resulted from the legislature placing the question on the ballot.
There have been nine in our history, dating back to 1777.
What was the result of the recent conventions?
- The 1938 convention placed nine separate questions on the ballot, with six being adopted.
The 1967 convention put all of it proposals as a single up or down vote on the entire package. The most controversial proposal was to repeal the “Blaine Amendment” which prohibits public funding of religious schools. The entire package was overwhelmingly voted down by more than two million votes (72-28%).
What was the result in 1997, the last time the question was on the ballot?
- In 1997, the voters overwhelmingly rejected the question of convening a constitutional convention, with 62% voting against it. It should be noted that 40% of the voters skipped the question.
What was the political climate regarding the 1997 vote?
- There was concern over the dysfunction in Albany. Governor Pataki, and Thomas Golisano (a Rochester businessman who later ran for Governor) saw the convention as a way to enact items such as term limits, on time budgets, and ballot initiatives, among others.
Convening a constitutional convention was opposed by an unusual coalition that included: unions, trial lawyers, advocates for the poor, women’s groups, and environmentalists.