Features, Law and Politics, New York

Why a Constitutional Convention in New York will be too Expensive

October 5, 2017

By James M. Steinberg, Esq.

In my first article, I addressed the attack on organized labor that will coordinated by those supporting a constitutional convention as a way of eradicating government corruption. However, all New Yorkers should be concerned over the estimated cost associated with a convention. Due to the excessive cost of organizing and holding a convention along with the alternative cost effective method of amending the constitution when necessary, a “no” vote on this question should be cast when voters head to the polls in November. Every 20 years since 1846, New Yorkers have been asked whether a constitutional convention should be held. Over the course of 171 years, 9 constitutional conventions have taken place with the most recent one occurring in 1967. The 1967 convention cost taxpayers $6.5 million. In 2017 dollars, that would equate to more than $47 million! A ridiculous price tag for an unnecessary process. In fact, some estimate that the cost to taxpayers for a constitutional convention in 2018 to be between $50 million and $100 million. Why so expensive? Here are some reasons:

  • If a convention was to be convened, in the November 2018 general election, 204 delegates would have to be elected (3 from each of New York’s senate districts along with 15 at-large delegates).
  • The delegates elected would then be paid to serve. A delegate who is already being paid a salary from the state would also receive a salary as a delegate. This is important to note since for the 1967 convention, the overwhelming majority of delegates were current and former state and federal legislators.
  • The constitutional convention would finally convene in Albany in 2019 for an unspecified duration during which delegates would debate, draft, redraft, revise and finally publish suggested amendments to the constitution. In 1938, this process took over 4 months and in 1967 it took more than 5 months.
  • Staff would have to be hired and paid to administer the convention.
  • Facilities would have to be rented at another cost to taxpayers in order to hold the convention.
  • Once the proposed amendments are published, they must then be submitted to the public for a vote no sooner than 6 weeks after the convention adjourns. There is no guarantee that the amendments proposed will then even be approved by the voters. For instance, at the conclusion of the 1967 convention, the amendments proposed were rejected by the voting public.

In lieu of an expensive convention, New York’s constitution, has and can always be, amended by legislation subsequently approved by a referendum vote. Since 1894, this much more cost effective approach has been used over 200 times to amend the constitution. Therefore, while the overarching issue facing unionized workers in New York State is the expected attack upon the safeguards afforded to them in the Constitution, the excessive cost of a convention should not be discounted and voters should reject this ballot initiative on November 7th.

October 5, 2017

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *