Friday, October 20, 2017

A look at November’s ballot items

November’s ballots might be lacking the political drama of last year’s when voters were choosing the President of the United States but that doesn’t mean they are meaningless. Every election matters, especially one such as this in which New Yorkers have the chance to decide on 3 ballot items. As I do in this column whenever proposals come to the fore, I offer a quick review of each.

It’s not often that ballot items in New York receive the attention that a race for an office might, but this year, Proposal 1 has garnered it. Newspaper reports and editorials, radio talk shows, television ad campaigns, and yard signs have been plentiful -- either for or against -- a state constitutional convention.

Every 20 years, the New York State Constitution requires voters to decide whether or not there should be such a convention. During one, elected delegates can propose amendments to or rewrite the entire state (not federal) Constitution. These get-togethers are a rare bird in the Empire State – since our first Constitution was adopted 240 years ago, there have been only 9 conventions, the last one in 1967. If this were to pass, the delegation would bring all their proposals to the voters in November of 2019.

Back in May, Siena College polls indicated that 62 percent of New Yorkers were in favor of a convention. That support has plummeted in recent months, as the September sampling showed that only 44 percent would vote in favor.

That drop-off is a testament to the barrage of advertising, education and outreach undertaken by numerous foes to a convention. Among them are good government groups, public employee unions, environmental organizations, and conservatives -- a mixed bag of interests who tend to rarely agree on causes. Strange bedfellows indeed. At press time, contributions to their anti-convention campaigns have surpassed $1.3 million while organizations in favor of it have netted just over $300,000.

This writer will be voting against a convention. It would be opening Pandora’s Box.

Sure, there are numerous positively transformative measures that could be proposed and adopted, but years of being subjected to Albany’s ambivalence towards upstaters and the rampant corruption that exists in the legislature and executive branch makes me believe that more harm than good would be initiated.

One of those aforementioned evils will finally be addressed by Proposal 2.

If passed, it would allow judges to reduce or revoke the public pension of a public officer convicted of a felony related to his or her official duties. This has received much attention in recent years as leaders of the Senate and Assembly, their fellow lawmakers and movers-and-shakers near to Governor Cuomo have been charged with breaking the public trust.

In theory it should create a greater disincentive for officials to not break the law (though one would think the specter of prison time is scary enough). Consider the financial plight of someone like former Senate head Dean Skelos (who somehow had his conviction overturned last month due to the narrowing of the definition of corruption). A powerful figure like him brings in just under $96,000 in taxpayer-funded pensions ever year of his retired life. If someone is found guilty of crimes against those same taxpayers, why should he or she be handsomely rewarded by them? 

Your columnist will be voting in favor of this measure. And likely so will most voters: A July Siena College poll showed overwhelming support (75 percent).

Proposal 3 is a pretty tame one as compared to the first two.

As it stands now, municipalities in the Adirondacks are hamstrung when they want to create bike paths, install sewer lines, fix bridges, address dangerous curves or work on utilities in the Park. The Forever Wild aspects of state law prevent them from infringing upon wilderness, even if it is in the smallest amounts. That poses risks to public safety and hinders economic development.

If passed, this proposal would create a 250-acre land bank, which would allow governments in the Blue Line to request state Forest Preserve land for qualifying infrastructure and projects in exchange for the state adding 250 new acres to the preserve. It’s basically a land swap so that affected communities don’t break the law while trying to do their best for residents or tourists like us.

In my travels through the Mountains I’ve seen more than enough places where this power could be utilized in positive ways, so I would encourage my fellow voters to approve this item.

This might be an “off year” for electing people into high-profile offices, but never shirk your ability to vote. There are some local races to tend to and these 3 ballot items represent some significant participative power for New Yorkers. Take advantage of that power….or the powers-that-be will take advantage of you. 

 From the 23 October 2017 Greater Niagara Newspapers

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