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85% favor N.Y. holding constitutional convention

Most respondents to this week’s RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll said they would vote in favor of holding a New York constitutional convention to consider amending the state constitution.

Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb of Canandaigua and others want a state constitutional convention to produce needed reforms. By a margin of 85 percent to 15 percent, respondents favor a convention.

Opponents of the idea say a convention would be costly and dominated by the same interests that now control Albany.

If such a convention were held, a whopping 91 percent of respondents say, elected officials, party officials and registered lobbyists should be prohibited from serving as delegates.

Roughly 665 readers participated in this week’s poll, which was conducted Sept. 8.

Would you vote now for or against holding a New York State constitutional convention?

For: 85%

Against: 15%

If a state constitutional convention is held, should elected officials, party officials and registered lobbyists be prohibited from serving as delegates?

Yes: 91%

No:  9%

Here are some readers’ comments:

The problem will be to find delegates who are knowledgeable enough to make good decisions while being unbiased!

—Dick McGavern, Canandaigua

New York State is seriously broken. We should start again.

—Eric Zeller

State employees, attorneys and public employee union representatives must also be excluded. There ought to also be limits on advertising related to the constitutional convention to the extent that is not violating the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

—Jim Weisbeck, Holy Sepulchre Cemetery

Are you kidding? As dysfunctional as Albany has been of late, do you really want the current leaders of our state to have an opportunity to rewrite our future? Not me.

—Joe Leone

A convention (that) may be dominated by the political insiders who have helped to create a totally dysfunctional government may show many voters what idiots they are and help people like Brian Kolb and better candidates shine bright for election or re-election.

—Daniel Mossien

We are long overdue for some reformation of our state constitution. Term limits and particularly a change in the residency requirements for our federal representatives are needed to get us out of the carpetbagger status that New York has for aspiring politicians like the Kennedys and Hillary Clinton, who have no interests in New York except as a platform to national office.

—Dave Coriale

We need to do something to fix this mess of a state. Anything not involving any of the current lawmakers, party officials and lobbyists has to help.

—Peter Short, J.J. Short Associates Inc.

We should try anything to end the political mess in this state. I can only hope the public is fed up enough to resist the public employees union’s anti-convention stand this time around. We also need to keep those who have created this mess—namely, elected officials, party officials and registered lobbyists—from being delegates.

—William Sheeran

All delegates should pay their own way and all their own expenses. That should weed out the freeloaders. They should be prepared to work 12- to 14-hour days, at least. That should weed out the lazy. All those who have run for office in the last 10 years and did not ever get elected should be the delegates. We already know what the elected will do; let’s hear from the rest. No lobbyists or party officials should be delegates. That should weed out many who caused the problems, and who perpetuate themselves. All deliberations should be streamed real-time online, with comments posted live on video displays visible to all the convention attendees and to the online observers, i.e. an electronic town meeting that takes as long as it takes. The agenda can be suggested by anyone, but posted online for public input and discussion in advance. Allow online opinion votes as information for the delegates, but not binding on them. If the delegate is out of his/her seat more than 10 percent of the time, remove their credentials and point the way to the door. If we’re not prepared to take a new approach with all the tools now at our disposal, please change my vote to "NO, it’s a waste of money."

—Diane Harris

It is time to hold a constitutional convention. It will be a daunting task to prevent special interests from taking it over, but little will change in Albany unless the hands of those in power are forced. There may be a better idea out there, but I haven’t heard it.

—Brian Kane

We need to figure out how "Albany," both houses, keeps getting reelected term after term after term. New York State, which is in a free fall down the ladder of success, has a legislative government that no one has a good thing to say about. Yet, election after election, year after year, our legislators get an "A" for point fingers and a gentlemen’s "D" for results. We have to at least talk about the process that makes such a travesty possible.

—Jay Birnbaum

I think that a NYS constitutional convention would be a hot air affair, creating nothing but noise and mischief. Do we really need to have Rush Limbaugh and his ilk run the state? If the present system at Albany is of benefit to the elected, they will find ways to rebuild it. Excluding citizens from the convention—be they party big wigs or lobbyists—would at once trigger lawsuits about equal rights, and distract from any purpose of an intended New York State constitutional convention. If you need entertainment, forget about a New York State constitutional show, go to the circus or watch reruns on TV.

—Ingo H. Leubner, Crystallization Consulting

Personally if I could vote in terms of "no confidence" regarding our state government, I would do so in a heartbeat! In regards our state elected officials: Shame on you for your deeply rooted party politics and aversion to all things good and right. Our elected officials show no creativity, have no ability to think outside the box and continue to strangle the people of this state with new forms of taxation. I believe we need a ballot referendum-type amendment to the state constitution that would empower the people and shake up these jokers. It’s amazing how the political polls for every governor start out high and end up in the dumper because of the politically charged stalemates between the parties. God forbid that any party member offers his hand across the aisle to his opponent on anything politically meaningful or meaty in terms of legislation and do something good with it. I don’t think this is what our founding fathers had in mind in terms of representative government. I think the time is ripe for a state constitutional convention; however, it will never happen due to the fact that the politicos really cannot afford to let the voters in this state really see what a mess they have made of this state.

—Jeffrey J. Paris, president, AeroARTS LLC

This is part of their job—why can’t they complete their jobs while they are IN ALBANY. Why do they never seem to have enough time—no time to pass the budget, no time to make reforms but, oddly enough, plenty of time to vote pay raises and benefits and retirement packages for themselves. They wonder why their constituents are so grouchy when they talk to them—they need only look back at their dismal records and see why!

—Caren Epps

If a convention is held, seated politicos should be barred as delegates.

—Gary S. O’Dea, managing member, Sourcing Solutions Associates, LLC

I am fed up with New York State government. I don’t feel anyone in Albany is truly working for Upstate New Yorkers. They have their own agendas. I’m really sick of it. If I didn’t have ailing parents, I’d leave the state. I’ve left before, it isn’t that difficult and I certainly wouldn’t miss the high tax payments.

—M. Curtain, Rochester

While I would be the last to say that New York needs a new constitution, I fear that such an event would not only be a political circus, but would cost us already-burdened taxpayers a fortune! New York needs to get a grip on its financial and legislative dilemma long before setting up a constitutional convention. That said, if a constitutional convention could be convened that results in Upstate or Western New York seceding from New York City, and becoming West New York, perhaps all of these issues could be resolved quickly!

—Hutch Hutchison, In T’Hutch Ltd.

Nearly nine years ago we had a chance to support and hold a constitutional referendum, but we were scared away from it by a concerted, direct-from-the-playbook, scare-tactic campaign that was mounted in all media and with ferocious fury. The fearmongers hated the idea of “The Public” tinkering with New York’s “Sacred Document,” which supposedly protected us from government by government and which was also to protect us from the tyranny of the majority. The constitutional convention was opposed by an incredible array of both right-and-left leaning politicians, special interests, and reactionary legions. In fact, it’s the same bunch who is currently trying to scare us from dealing with health care reform. These interests that oppose a convention or any kind of public referendum fear that the public will go wild and strip protections, etc., etc. We might, for example, stop protecting unsustainable state government pensions? Or we could cease protecting the most generous Medicaid program in the nation (which gives rise to the joke "if you get sick, move to NY")? The list is as long as the problems we currently face. But if we do not wrestle control from the dysfunctional system that calls itself our state government, we will be condemned to endure the fruits of our own making. This is it. Supporting a constitutional convention and, in particular, getting the right of public referendum on important issues that affect our future may be our last and only chance to rescue the state from nearly certain bankruptcy and continued catastrophic decline.

—Bob Fischl, Honeoye Falls

It is time for the voice of WE THE PEOPLE to be heard in New York State. For too long, our elected officials have ignored our input, keep raising taxes, and pile on costly mandates that most small businesses can no longer afford. It is time for we the people to decide our future. The senate and assembly seem unwilling or simple unable to conduct business for the benefit of the citizens of New York State.

—David Crawford

This may be the perfect time to implement term limits.

—Ronney Finke, president, Gypsum Systems Interiors Ltd.

We desperately need voter initiatives on ballots. Voters in New York are stuck with the worst government in the U.S. Allowing voters to propose and pass initiatives can only help. We further need the ability to recall "useless" politicians.

—Jerry Lighthouse, C.P.M., CPIM Advanced Purchasing Technology, LLC

We moved into N.Y. in 1983. The politicians have been talking about a constitutional convention since we moved here. It is time that the citizens rose up and demanded one. But, I fear it will never happen. Too many people in and around Albany would have to give up their influence and power.

—Robert Zinnecker, Penfield

Even if elected officials are barred, they each have a stable of proxies who will do their bidding. Further, by opening up a convention, anything and everything can be put on the table, enabling an organized minority to hijack the proceedings and, potentially, inflict long-term damage that is worse than we’re experiencing now. A better solution is to organize citizens to continually increase pressure on our Legislators to change the rules under which they operate. It’s a slow and painful way to go, but in the end, I think it’s the most effective approach.

—Andy Vaughan

We had better make something happen before 2017! I believe we have reached the point in New York State, where we all need to take a real close look as to who the political insiders and special interest groups are, and begin the steps necessary to take back our state. Yes, a convention may be costly, but wait and see what the costs will be if we continue to sit back and do nothing. We are way past due for a regime change in Albany. Go, Brian!

—Mike Richmond, owner, Evergreen Co.

Only by removing the very people who have created and currently control the most dysfunctional state government in the nation can we be assured that reform and progress can be made to restoring the great promise held by our state’s many resources.

—Richard Hermann

Things to be addressed would be: term limits, redistricting (to prevent gerrymandering), and lawmakers compensation. A balanced budget should be required. The dollar amount for member items should be identical for all members, not dependent on party. All bills must be made public in their entirety at least 14 days before voting. All committee meetings will issue complete minutes within 48 hours. Every lawmaker must have his/her tax return made public and audited by the NYS Department of Taxation every year. If a budget is not completed on time, pay will be FORFEITED (not delayed) until it is. If the state is in a deficit, no raise for state employees. Pensions and withdrawals from retirement accounts for all New York residents will be taxed the same, with no benefit going to public employees. All mandates will be at least 75 percent funded by the State.

—Tom Walpole, CPA

New York State government has failed "us," NYS citizens. We have unprecedented debt, out of control spending, numerous overlapping government agencies and organizations, way too many school districts and political corruption. It is time that we reorganize so that N.Y. represents its citizens and NOT elected officials and the civil employees. DO IT now before the mass exodus.

—Tony Schmitt, Fairport

Delegates should be selected by referendum from each municipality, with number of delegates apportioned by population. Elected officials currently seated or having served in a statewide office during the past 10 years should be excluded from these referenda. Lobbyists would have to agree to give up their licenses to lobby state officials for a period of 10 years. This will ensure that the delegate pool is made up of citizens whose interests are civic rather than professional or political.

—Charles Pfeffer, president, Contextus LLC

O, P-L-E-A-S-E. … Now we’re supposed to nominate and send people who will only turn out to be advocates for their own special causes to a group meeting of like minded individuals. Oh, and NONE of them hold any stature in the government. Sounds like a giant "Feel good" party to me. Why can’t our (already) elected officials get off their dead butts and take care of business as they were elected to do? In Albany! Don’t these people know what they should do already? The answer is YES, they do, but they haven’t and they aren’t in any hurry to so they probably won’t. Just more obfuscation, bloatation and frumpation. Mr. Kolb should be ashamed. If he and the others need us peasants to tell them what is important, they’re terminally deaf and no convention will bring their hearing back. Better get something constructive done, Mr. Kolb. No more excuses. The next "convention" will be the public in the voting booths at the next election.

—Rick Bradley

Every 20 years, the current state constitution requires a voter referendum on whether to hold a New York State Constitutional Convention. The last time there was such a referendum, in 1997, it was defeated by an all-out smear campaign sponsored by, who else, the public employee unions, of course, and led by the Teachers Union. If New York waits for the next "automatic" opportunity to call a convention, it won’t happen until 2017 at the earliest. New York needs to streamline local government NOW, and to eliminate the "home rule" inspired Al Smith-era voting requirements in annexation of smaller localities by larger ones, and make other changes that will enable New York to "reinvent" itself to fit these times. When the state constitution was last amended seriously, New York was the country’s manufacturing leader and produced huge tax revenues without confiscatory tax rates and runaway state borrowing. Now that the state has mortgaged its future several times over, it’s time to look seriously at amending the rulebook we play the game by.

—David Lovenheim, managing director, Keystones Global, LLC

New York needs drastic reform, and Brian Kolb is to be congratulated for taking the initiative, whether appropriate or otherwise. Why don’t we start by passing a law that bans all forms of lobbying in New York State and actually consider introducing democracy into the process?

—Richard Stevenson, co-founder and CEO, CobbleSoft International Ltd.

My priority changes would be the following. Non-partisan creation of election districts. Mandatory "rainy day" fund. Add to it when income (is) up until it is a significant percentage of current state aid. Only disburse when the alternative is to cut aid New Yorkers. Public budget process. Remove borrowing power and increase oversight of non-government organizations. No non-funded local mandates.

—Dave Wood

We need to get New York State back on track and this would give us the chance to take it back for the taxpayers and not all the outside interests. Put the New York elected clown act on notice! The most costly is not doing it and continue the way we have been going!

—Greg Palis

The delegates should be drawn from good government non-profits which are knowledgeable about state government, fiscal policy and social needs, e.g. League of Women Voters, Citizens for a Better Government (CBGNY), Common Cause, Center for Governmental Research; with a healthy representation from academic study groups. Like Brennan Institute and government and economics professors at respected universities and MBA programs in NYS. We need structural change that will first eliminate gerrymandering by either party (which till now has kept districts "safe" for incumbents, elections a sham. and NYS stuck in gridlock); and then we need a thorough review—policy by policy, department by department, agency by agency—to determine what structures work and what should be changed.

—Judy Kaplan

New York is broken. I am one of only four people from my graduating high school class who still live here—and if they raise my taxes anymore, I am leaving. Albany is broken—the politicians are only concerned with re-election in the short term. In the long term, running business out of the state and over-taxing those who produce to subsidize those who do not is unsustainable. It’s time for a change.

—Jonathan LaRue, US Trust

Hopefully this will be voted in by the current legislature, then we hopefully (again) will not have to worry about them serving as delegates as they all will have been voted out of office as the voters elect new candidates as we "clean house" after the mess they created this year.

—Ted Marks

New York prides itself on having the most dysfunctional legislature in the United States. As much as I would hate to contest the last thing I know in the U.S. where NYS is No. 1, I’d support strongly a constitutional convention for NYS. Such diverse proponents as Democrat, Andrew Cuomo, and Republican, Rudy Giuliani are supporters of the constitutional convention. "Throw the bums out."

—Clifford Jacobson, WebHomeUSA.com

I agree with Brian Kolb that we need to change the state government. I don’t think this is the right time though. We both foresee the coming disaster that N.Y. is headed towards. Unfortunately most in this state don’t see it and won’t see it until disaster hits. Then the reform movement might be able to accomplish something. If we have a convention now, we might waste the crisis when it does hit. For now, we should be developing a plan, to be ready when the time is right.

—Dennis Ditch, Delta Square Inc.

Not sure about (question) No. 2. There should be a good balance of officials and interested citizens. The existing order/people should not rule the convention, but participants should have access to the experience and hopefully SOME wisdom from the existing politicians if not the lobbyists.

—Emily Neece

(c) 2009 Rochester Business Journal. Obtain permission to reprint this article.

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