NYS residents to vote on 3 propositions

ALBANY - New York voters heading to the polls Tuesday will decide three statewide ballot questions, including one that could open the state's constitution to its first large-scale rewrite since 1938.

Polls opened at 6 a.m. and will close at 9 p.m. across the state.

Voters who cast a ballot Tuesday will be asked whether or not to approve a constitutional convention, an opportunity for a slate of delegates to propose changes to the state's highest governing document that would then be put to a vote of the people, likely in 2019.

The second ballot question would allow a judge to strip high-ranking officials of their pension if they were convicted of a felony directly related to their job, while the third question would create a land bank to offset infrastructure construction in the Adirondacks and Catkills.

The three proposals -- all on the back of the ballot -- are the only questions to appear on every ballot in New York, where voters will also be faced with a slate of local races, including mayoral contests in New York City, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Albany.


Question No. 1: Constitutional Convention

Voters will be asked a short, simple question: "Shall there be a convention to revise the Constitution and amend the same?"

If approved, it would kickstart a multi-year process to convene a constitutional convention, where 204 delegates would gather in Albany and debate ways to reshape New York's 60,000-word constitution.

Should voters back a convention, potential delegates would run for office next year. Each of New York's 63 state Senate districts would elect three delegates; Another 15 would be elected statewide. Each delegate would get the same salary as a state Assembly representative -- $79,500.

Then, the convention would convene in 2019 with broad authority to hire staff and set rules to govern the process. They would approve a series of proposals to change the constitution, which would then go to voters for final approval after the convention ends -- likely in 2019.

If voters Tuesday oppose a convention, the question would next appear on the ballot in 2037.

Labor unions have been vocal opponents of a convention, pooling together more than $3 million to fund a campaign urging voters to vote "no". They fear delegates at a convention could propose rolling back worker protections and pension rights for public employees.

Among those supporting a convention are former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman and Democratic donor Bill Samuels, who put more than $300,000 toward his campaign supporting a "yes" vote. Supporters say it's an opportunity to push for reform in New York, from reshaping the state's court system to advancing rights for clean air and water.

On Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office revealed the governor will vote no on a convention.

In 2010, Cuomo said he supported a constitutional convention and pledged to reform the delegate selection process, which would allow lawmakers and registered lobbyists to run for the convention. Ultimately, the reforms never happened.

"The Governor is voting no on a constitutional convention because the current delegate system does not offer enough protections to prevent the status quo and special interests from governing," Cuomo spokeswoman Abbey Fashouer said in a statement Monday.

Question No. 2: Pension Forfeiture

In 2011, New York lawmakers approved a law allowing a judge to strip corrupt elected officials of their pension benefits if the official is convicted of a felony.

But that law only applies to those who were elected after 2011. For it to apply to all elected officials and top appointees, Question No. 2 would have to be approved.

The proposal would alter the state constitution, which currently says that pension benefits cannot be diminished after an employee enters public service. The change would apply to elected or appointed officials convicted of a felony directly related to their job.

Ultimately, it would be up to a judge to decide whether to strip or diminish their pension.

If approved, the amendment would only apply to crimes committed after Jan. 1, 2018.

At least 14 former state lawmakers convicted of a felony currently collect a state pension, according to records from the state Comptroller's Office.

Question No. 3: Adirondack And Catskill Land Bank

New York's constitution contains a "Forever Wild" provision that protects the Adirondack and Catskill forest preserves, keeping them "forever wild as forest lands" while preventing the sale of the land and protecting against tree felling.

As it stands, the only way around that -- for, say, the construction of a new road or bridge -- is by approving a constitutional amendment for a specific project.

This proposal would change that, allowing Adirondack and Catskill towns and villages to undertake infrastructure problems that improve the health and safety of their town with state approval.

The state, meanwhile, would have to purchase 250 acres of forest land for a land bank to offset any land lost in the infrastructure projects.

The proposal has wide support from environmental groups across the state and Adirondack boosters, who say it will make it easier to repair roads and bridges and install the type of infrastructure needed to expand broadband Internet access.

Some oil and natural-gas interests have raised concerns about a provision that exempts fossil fuel pipelines from being included. For a new oil or gas pipeline, a project-specific constitutional amendment would still be needed if the proper state and federal approvals weren't in place by June 2016.

 

© Gannett Co., Inc. 2017. All Rights Reserved


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