In theory, it is a democratic opening that should further the interests of New Yorkers. Every 20 years, our state constitution provides that a referendum be held on whether to hold a constitutional convention. First adopted in 1777 in New York, just a year after the U.S. Declaration of Independence, it was a profoundly democratic principle. But the modern dynamics of such a convention are far afield from what our founders had in mind.
In today’s world, special interests with very deep pockets have latched on to the prospect of a constitutional convention. Their interests are antithetical to the protection of working people, our environment, safe workplaces, public education and more.
Public-sector unions a target
A constitutional convention would put everything on the table for discussion, including the constitutional mandates against the cutting of pensions, a guarantee to public education, protection of workers’ compensation system, the right for public-sector unions to bargain collectively and a requirement that the state provide social welfare services.
$300 million to fight us
Special interest groups would use the convention to reduce the power of labor unions as well as seek the privatization of public services. “Moneyed interests would use the opportunity to aattack public employee pensions and our right to a free public education,” said NYC Council Member Corey Johnson.
A convention in our state would be held against the backdrop of a national effort to erode social programs for the poor, and give a green light to austerity advocates.
Ironically, these same austerity forces overlook the price tag for a New York Constitutional Convention: $300 million. That is the estimate of the tab our taxpayers would have to pick up to fund this effort at deliberately anti-democratic democracy. Unaccountable convention delegates would receive the pay of a state legislator, or $79,500 per year, and have the right to hire staff and receive pension credit.
With a short time to Election Day, North Central Bronx Hospital nurses are fired up about voting no on a Constitutional Convention! As NCB delegate, Cliff Duncan, RN, put it: “I don’t think a Constitutional Convention would help workers in general. I think it would be damaging to unions, and therefore, it would be damaging to families. A Constitutional Convention wouldn’t be for the rank and file—it would be for the special interests, who are trying to divest us of our political power.” What are you doing between now and November 7 to spread the word about the dangers of a “Con Con”?!