Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/gerald-benjamin 2017-12-11T20:55:40+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Defeated on Con Con, Gerald Benjamin Plots His Next Move 2017-11-13T05:00:00+00:00 2017-11-13T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7319:defeated-on-con-con-gerald-benjamin-plots-his-next-move Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/gb_resize.jpeg" alt="Gerald Benjamin SUNY" width="600" height="428" /></p> <p>Gerald Benjamin</p> <hr /> <p>“It was a devastating defeat,” said Gerald Benjamin, wounds still fresh from a blowout he had, in his seventies, worked very hard to avoid. “The size of the defeat upset me more than the fact of the defeat,” he added, referring to the overwhelming vote against holding a New York state constitutional convention.</p> <p>“I really think that this was a major missed opportunity,” Benjamin said by phone Monday, less than a week after New York voters decided 83 percent to 17 percent not to hold a convention to amend the state’s most powerful governing document. “The nature of the opportunity was misunderstood; the nature of the risk was miscalculated,” said Benjamin, from New Paltz, where he continues his work at the State University of New York, leading <a href="http://www.newpaltz.edu/benjamincenter/about.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the Benjamin Center for Public Policy Initiatives</a>, which was renamed after him in 2015.</p> <p>The constitutional convention vote result was despite Benjamin’s best efforts, barnstorming the state giving talks and participating in debates, explaining the once-in-a-generation opportunity to truly reform state government. He’s advocated for a constitutional convention for decades, including ahead of the last every-20-years vote, in 1997, which also resulted in no gathering to debate the structures and mandates of state law.</p> <p>Benjamin believes that the state constitution desperately needs modernization, the court system needs to be redesigned, and a host of changes should be made to how state government functions, including rebalancing of power between the executive and legislative branches, term limits for state legislators, and more, like home rule and campaign finance reforms.</p> <p>“I did my best. I don’t feel I could’ve done anything more,” Benjamin said. “I was glad I got to vote ‘yes.’ In retrospect I felt disappointed by the margin.”</p> <p>Asked if he had felt like he was voting for himself on the ballot, Benjamin laughed, and commented that the questioner appeared to be pushing him toward sentimentality. Throughout the campaign leading up to Election Day, Benjamin had regularly said that this would be the last opportunity for a convention “in my lifetime.” He’s now actively plotting his next moves toward reform.</p> <p>While Benjamin and other scholars and reformers were for calling a convention, in large part to pursue changes that entrenched powers have been unwilling to consider, the opposition to a convention was an immense coalition of labor unions, civil rights and environmental groups, and others, including many on both sides of the political aisle, with a few exceptions. They vastly outspent the “yes” side, using a campaign of fear (that pensions would be stripped or natural preserves unprotected) to drive members and activists to the polls to flip over the ballot and vote “no” on proposition one.</p> <p>“Those are the right were being rational,” Benjamin said, noting that Republicans are a dwindling minority in New York. “Those on the left, I don’t know.” Benjamin expressed what was a fairly common belief, that labor unions, civil rights groups, environmentalists, and allies of each were being too cynical in their opposition, that they could easily dominate a constitutional convention, which, if approved, would have taken place in 2019, with its proposals likely to be on the November 2020 ballot for voters to approve or vote down.</p> <p>In 2018, there would have been delegate elections, a process some, including Governor Andrew Cuomo, pointed to as problematic, since there are no rules restricting current officeholders or their associates from running, and no campaign finance rules beyond the porous state-level ones. Cuomo had expressed support for holding a convention in the past, but that had all but vanished by the start of this year.</p> <p>“I think he made the political calculation and acted in accord with it,” Benjamin said of Cuomo. “It had to do with ambition for himself and ambition for his program. And he’s good at that.I’m not condemnatory of a man making a political judgement...but I’m disappointed, it wasn’t a profile in courage. It’s indicative that the path is so narrow.”</p> <p>As for the concern from Cuomo and others about the delegate election process, Benjamin said one way to negate that issue in the future is to move legislation well ahead of the next convention vote, due for 2037.</p> <p>“Conversations have just started to make that happen and make some other things happen constitutionally,” Benjamin said, explaining that he is already facing the reality dealt to him on Election Day. “I’m not sitting here being discouraged,” he said.</p> <p>Instead, he is talking with others about how to make changes, related to both the convention process and, perhaps more importantly, key aspects of state governance. ”I certainly will help pressure the Legislature,” Benjamin said, noting that he is not optimistic, but that not trying isn’t an option. “You can’t do anything without having a proposal...you have to have a bill, something beyond an idea. We are going to keep the conversation going in some measure.”</p> <p>Reforms that would have been sought at a convention can be approached piecemeal, whether it is electoral reforms like early voting or a campaign finance system.</p> <p>As for the 2017 vote that wasn’t, despite the political moment, wherein New Yorkers have little faith in state government after seeing corruption scandal after corruption scandal, Benjamin said “At the end of the day, it was a harder test than I thought it was from a political point of view.” But, he added, while “We were really outgunned, in retrospect that wasn’t really the problem.’</p> <p>Benjamin cited “one structural and one operational” deficit his side faced. One on hand, he noted that with all the rights and protections that have been added to the constitution over many years, including some at constitutional conventions, ”every increment of positive rights that were added created a constituency to protect that the document wouldn’t be changed...it’s very powerful politically that aggregation of interests in favor of not opening the document.”</p> <p>Second, he said, “The nature of the question doesn’t tell late-arriving people that they are talking about the state constitution.” The wording of the ballot question, which is mandated by the current constitution, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/7289-new-york-s-con-con-ballot-is-biased" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">does not indicate</a> whether the convention would deal with the state or federal constitution, and people with little background knowledge may be worried that the much-revered federal constitution could be on the chopping block.</p> <p>Benjamin cited the organized effort of the opposition, as well as the shifting poll numbers that helped convince many that the proposition would not pass as the vote approached, and what he called a “really problematic” and “poorly argued editorial” <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/31/opinion/constitutional-convention.html?_r=0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">by The New York Times editorial board</a>, which advocated voting “no.”</p> <p>Steadfast that he’s nowhere near done seeking reform and improvement to state government structure and process, Benjamin said it’s hard to see a constitutional convention being approved in the future. “I can’t imagine the conditions that would arise, even the crisis conditions, in that case we’d address the crisis,” he said.</p> <p>But, he added, “Who knows what opportunities circumstances will present.”</p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/gb_resize.jpeg" alt="Gerald Benjamin SUNY" width="600" height="428" /></p> <p>Gerald Benjamin</p> <hr /> <p>“It was a devastating defeat,” said Gerald Benjamin, wounds still fresh from a blowout he had, in his seventies, worked very hard to avoid. “The size of the defeat upset me more than the fact of the defeat,” he added, referring to the overwhelming vote against holding a New York state constitutional convention.</p> <p>“I really think that this was a major missed opportunity,” Benjamin said by phone Monday, less than a week after New York voters decided 83 percent to 17 percent not to hold a convention to amend the state’s most powerful governing document. “The nature of the opportunity was misunderstood; the nature of the risk was miscalculated,” said Benjamin, from New Paltz, where he continues his work at the State University of New York, leading <a href="http://www.newpaltz.edu/benjamincenter/about.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the Benjamin Center for Public Policy Initiatives</a>, which was renamed after him in 2015.</p> <p>The constitutional convention vote result was despite Benjamin’s best efforts, barnstorming the state giving talks and participating in debates, explaining the once-in-a-generation opportunity to truly reform state government. He’s advocated for a constitutional convention for decades, including ahead of the last every-20-years vote, in 1997, which also resulted in no gathering to debate the structures and mandates of state law.</p> <p>Benjamin believes that the state constitution desperately needs modernization, the court system needs to be redesigned, and a host of changes should be made to how state government functions, including rebalancing of power between the executive and legislative branches, term limits for state legislators, and more, like home rule and campaign finance reforms.</p> <p>“I did my best. I don’t feel I could’ve done anything more,” Benjamin said. “I was glad I got to vote ‘yes.’ In retrospect I felt disappointed by the margin.”</p> <p>Asked if he had felt like he was voting for himself on the ballot, Benjamin laughed, and commented that the questioner appeared to be pushing him toward sentimentality. Throughout the campaign leading up to Election Day, Benjamin had regularly said that this would be the last opportunity for a convention “in my lifetime.” He’s now actively plotting his next moves toward reform.</p> <p>While Benjamin and other scholars and reformers were for calling a convention, in large part to pursue changes that entrenched powers have been unwilling to consider, the opposition to a convention was an immense coalition of labor unions, civil rights and environmental groups, and others, including many on both sides of the political aisle, with a few exceptions. They vastly outspent the “yes” side, using a campaign of fear (that pensions would be stripped or natural preserves unprotected) to drive members and activists to the polls to flip over the ballot and vote “no” on proposition one.</p> <p>“Those are the right were being rational,” Benjamin said, noting that Republicans are a dwindling minority in New York. “Those on the left, I don’t know.” Benjamin expressed what was a fairly common belief, that labor unions, civil rights groups, environmentalists, and allies of each were being too cynical in their opposition, that they could easily dominate a constitutional convention, which, if approved, would have taken place in 2019, with its proposals likely to be on the November 2020 ballot for voters to approve or vote down.</p> <p>In 2018, there would have been delegate elections, a process some, including Governor Andrew Cuomo, pointed to as problematic, since there are no rules restricting current officeholders or their associates from running, and no campaign finance rules beyond the porous state-level ones. Cuomo had expressed support for holding a convention in the past, but that had all but vanished by the start of this year.</p> <p>“I think he made the political calculation and acted in accord with it,” Benjamin said of Cuomo. “It had to do with ambition for himself and ambition for his program. And he’s good at that.I’m not condemnatory of a man making a political judgement...but I’m disappointed, it wasn’t a profile in courage. It’s indicative that the path is so narrow.”</p> <p>As for the concern from Cuomo and others about the delegate election process, Benjamin said one way to negate that issue in the future is to move legislation well ahead of the next convention vote, due for 2037.</p> <p>“Conversations have just started to make that happen and make some other things happen constitutionally,” Benjamin said, explaining that he is already facing the reality dealt to him on Election Day. “I’m not sitting here being discouraged,” he said.</p> <p>Instead, he is talking with others about how to make changes, related to both the convention process and, perhaps more importantly, key aspects of state governance. ”I certainly will help pressure the Legislature,” Benjamin said, noting that he is not optimistic, but that not trying isn’t an option. “You can’t do anything without having a proposal...you have to have a bill, something beyond an idea. We are going to keep the conversation going in some measure.”</p> <p>Reforms that would have been sought at a convention can be approached piecemeal, whether it is electoral reforms like early voting or a campaign finance system.</p> <p>As for the 2017 vote that wasn’t, despite the political moment, wherein New Yorkers have little faith in state government after seeing corruption scandal after corruption scandal, Benjamin said “At the end of the day, it was a harder test than I thought it was from a political point of view.” But, he added, while “We were really outgunned, in retrospect that wasn’t really the problem.’</p> <p>Benjamin cited “one structural and one operational” deficit his side faced. One on hand, he noted that with all the rights and protections that have been added to the constitution over many years, including some at constitutional conventions, ”every increment of positive rights that were added created a constituency to protect that the document wouldn’t be changed...it’s very powerful politically that aggregation of interests in favor of not opening the document.”</p> <p>Second, he said, “The nature of the question doesn’t tell late-arriving people that they are talking about the state constitution.” The wording of the ballot question, which is mandated by the current constitution, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/7289-new-york-s-con-con-ballot-is-biased" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">does not indicate</a> whether the convention would deal with the state or federal constitution, and people with little background knowledge may be worried that the much-revered federal constitution could be on the chopping block.</p> <p>Benjamin cited the organized effort of the opposition, as well as the shifting poll numbers that helped convince many that the proposition would not pass as the vote approached, and what he called a “really problematic” and “poorly argued editorial” <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/31/opinion/constitutional-convention.html?_r=0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">by The New York Times editorial board</a>, which advocated voting “no.”</p> <p>Steadfast that he’s nowhere near done seeking reform and improvement to state government structure and process, Benjamin said it’s hard to see a constitutional convention being approved in the future. “I can’t imagine the conditions that would arise, even the crisis conditions, in that case we’d address the crisis,” he said.</p> <p>But, he added, “Who knows what opportunities circumstances will present.”</p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
What’s The [DATA] Point? 1936 2017-10-19T04:00:00+00:00 2017-10-19T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7263:what-s-the-data-point-1936 Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/whats-the-data-point.jpg" alt="whats the data point" width="600" height="600" /></p> <hr /> <p><strong>What’s The [Data] Point? Episode 16</strong><strong> - <b>1936,&nbsp;with Gerald Benjamin of SUNY New Paltz</b>&nbsp;&nbsp;</strong>[You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/podcast/geraldb.jpg" alt="geraldb" width="227" height="143" style="float: left; margin-right: 10px;" />On Election Day, November 7, New Yorkers will be asked whether the state should hold a constitutional convention. It is a quesion that appears on the ballot every 20 years, mandated by the current constitution, and allows voters to simply answer "yes" or "no." Gerald Benjamin, a distinguished scholar from SUNY New Paltz and proponent of calling a convention, joined the podcast to discuss the controversial topic that has many in New York focused on either securing approval or voting it down. The data point, 1936, was the last time New York voters approved a Con Con, as it is often called. Benjamin believes this is the year the "yes" side could win again, and he explains both why New Yorkers should vote in favor and many of the issues surrounding the question.</p> <p>Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (<a href="https://twitter.com/TweetBenMax" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@TweetBenMax</a>) &amp; CBC (<a href="https://twitter.com/cbcny">@cbcny</a>) Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!</p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/347659028&amp;color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%" height="170" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/whats-the-data-point.jpg" alt="whats the data point" width="600" height="600" /></p> <hr /> <p><strong>What’s The [Data] Point? Episode 16</strong><strong> - <b>1936,&nbsp;with Gerald Benjamin of SUNY New Paltz</b>&nbsp;&nbsp;</strong>[You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/podcast/geraldb.jpg" alt="geraldb" width="227" height="143" style="float: left; margin-right: 10px;" />On Election Day, November 7, New Yorkers will be asked whether the state should hold a constitutional convention. It is a quesion that appears on the ballot every 20 years, mandated by the current constitution, and allows voters to simply answer "yes" or "no." Gerald Benjamin, a distinguished scholar from SUNY New Paltz and proponent of calling a convention, joined the podcast to discuss the controversial topic that has many in New York focused on either securing approval or voting it down. The data point, 1936, was the last time New York voters approved a Con Con, as it is often called. Benjamin believes this is the year the "yes" side could win again, and he explains both why New Yorkers should vote in favor and many of the issues surrounding the question.</p> <p>Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (<a href="https://twitter.com/TweetBenMax" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@TweetBenMax</a>) &amp; CBC (<a href="https://twitter.com/cbcny">@cbcny</a>) Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!</p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/347659028&amp;color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%" height="170" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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10 Bold or Bizarre Proposals for a New York Constitutional Convention 2017-06-01T04:00:00+00:00 2017-06-01T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6967:10-bold-or-bizarre-proposals-for-a-new-york-constitutional-convention Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/32985722296_26b52ab3b7_z_1.jpg" alt="voting constitutional convention" width="600" height="400" /></p> <hr /> <p>When New York voters head to the polls on November 7, Election Day, printed on their ballots will be the question, “Shall there be a convention to revise the constitution and amend the same?”</p> <p>A "yes" vote would trigger a state constitutional convention process that could lead to major changes to the New York constitution.</p> <p>While the first New York Constitution dates back to 1777, the version used today was adopted in 1894, with significant modifications made following the 1938 constitutional convention. Of those in support of a convention, some simply want New Yorkers to have the chance to debate key aspects of the antiquated, 52,500-word document, while others have clear policy agendas, like government ethics reform. There are many more mainstream ideas being discussed, but also a variety of more radical proposals that could be on the table if a convention were to be called.</p> <p>The debate over whether to support a “yes” vote for a convention largely revolves around the potential to enact long-sought policy measures lawmakers seems unwilling to implement versus fears that hard-earned protections could be dismantled.</p> <p>Advocates of various political affiliations see the constitutional convention as an opportunity to push for changes to redistricting, campaign finance, and term-limits for legislators -- not to mention a comprehensive rewrite of the at-times illegible constitution document that has many vestigial pieces.</p> <p>At the same time, many labor unions and leading lawmakers are voicing their opposition to a convention. Of Albany’s five legislative conference leaders, only Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb has consistently backed a convention. Governor Andrew Cuomo has said he supports holding a convention, Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he does not.</p> <p>Due to the democratic nature of a convention, people from all over the state and across the political spectrum frustrated by a lack of movement on their priorities in Albany are seizing on the opportunity to promote their causes, and are considering running their own delegates -- representatives will be elected in 2018 if a convention is approved this November.</p> <p>Often, proposed constitutional amendments are framed in terms of “rights,” as in the right to clean air, the right to clean water, the right to hunt or farm, the right to equal treatment, the right to have a pension, and so on. Also being introduced, though, are some more unorthodox, even seemingly outlandish constitutional changes, like legalizing recreational marijuana, a dramatic restructuring of the state Legislature, or the splitting up of New York State.</p> <p>Organizations (and individuals) pining for a convention are not necessarily powerful or well-funded -- anyone with internet access <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/in-the-loop/wp/2014/04/10/how-to-start-a-super-pac-because-you-can/?utm_term=.67dd7e3fb8e3" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">can start</a> a political action committee -- and more radical proposals would be likely be countered at a convention by moderates with other priorities or competing interests.</p> <p>The multi-phase process is also designed to prevent the convention from being hijacked by a single fringe agenda. If a majority of voters say “yes” to the convention question, which appears on the ballot once every 20 years, the following Election Day, New Yorkers elect delegates to an Albany convention, who would then be charged with crafting amendments to improve and streamline the constitution. The final, key step would be that any proposed constitutional changes coming out of a convention go to voter referendum the following year.</p> <p>As a result, New Yorkers should not fear the exchange of ideas that a ConCon would allow, according to SUNY New Paltz Professor Gerald Benjamin, a constitutional scholar and longtime convention proponent.</p> <p>“There’s no common agenda for a constitutional convention. Lots of people support a right to clean water, for example, and some other people think it would lead to excessive litigation. My view is that a convention cannot and will not produce radical solutions,” Benjamin said. “There are going to be 10,000 proposals, and each will be deliberated.”</p> <p>A recent Siena College <a href="https://www.siena.edu/news-events/article/cuomo-ratings-all-up-favorability-best-in-three-years" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">poll</a> found that a strong majority of New Yorkers, 62 percent, from across the political spectrum support holding a constitution convention, a once-in-a-generation opportunity to modernize the lengthy, outdated New York State document that is the foundation of state law. Two-thirds of Democrats, 55 percent of Republicans, and 59 percent of independents polled said they support a ConCon.</p> <p>But the same study found that New Yorkers are mostly uninformed about a convention; only 13 percent have heard a “great deal” or “some” about it. The disparity between the two sets of poll responses may indicate voter frustration with their state government, which has been home to a seemingly endless torrent of corruption scandals.</p> <p>At the same time, powerful labor unions are spending big money to convince voters to reject the convention in November. While support of a ConCon remains strong, even among union families, according to the latest poll, labor organizations like the United Federation of Teachers and SEIU-1199 have already launched campaigns to sway New Yorkers towards a “no” vote.</p> <p>“Support for ConCon has remained consistently strong over the last couple of years,” said Siena College pollster Steven Greenberg, in releasing <a href="https://www.siena.edu/news-events/article/cuomo-ratings-all-up-favorability-best-in-three-years#sthash.vRHzBQ2O.dpuf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the latest poll</a>. “But the question remains, will that support stay strong as voters hear more about ConCon, particularly as we move into the fall and various interest groups start spending money to educate voters – both in support and opposition – about ConCon? Only time will tell.</p> <p>In the meantime, we've compiled a round-up of 10 of the more intriguing proposals that have emerged ahead of the upcoming referendum, ranging from bold to bizarre.</p> <p><strong>1. Reforming the Court System</strong><br />While the New York State Bar Association has not taken a position on a constitutional convention, in February, the NYSBA issued a report highlighting how an overhaul of the state constitution could go a long way towards streamlining the state’s notoriously complicated court system. A constitutional rewrite could simplify everyday legal processes related child custody, traffic tickets, business disputes, and more.</p> <p>"The potential to simplify the state's court system, promote access to justice and reduce unnecessary costs and inefficiencies make the issue of court consolidation one that is ripe for consideration at a constitutional convention, should voters choose to hold one," <a href="http://www.nysba.org/judiciaryreport2017/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the report says</a>.</p> <p><strong>2. Home Rule</strong><br />The constitution’s “home rule” statute, which dates back to 1963, says that anything not explicitly stated as purview of cities in the state constitution is placed in the authority of the state. Many issues impacting New York City fall into this grey area, including mayoral control of New York City schools and city speed limits. Cities are left disempowered and at the mercy of the state on many issues affecting local constituents. Local leaders, like the mayor of New York City, are then reliant on votes from far-off legislators related to especially parochial matters.</p> <p>One proposal, laid out by Effective NY, a liberal think tank, would change the wording of the statute to grant cities power unless specifically restricted by the constitution (like the United States Constitution’s ninth amendment, which grants states any powers not explicitly granted the federal government). Other states, like New Jersey and New Mexico, already have provisions defaulting control to municipalities.</p> <p><strong>3. Unicameral Legislature</strong><br />Does New York State really need two legislative houses? Some point to gridlock in Albany as a byproduct of the fact that New York has two legislative houses that often pass conflicting measures.</p> <p>Nebraska is currently <a href="http://www.csgmidwest.org/member_services/feb2011unicameral.aspx" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the only state</a> that has a unicameral Legislature, or a Legislature with one house.</p> <p>In 1962, the Supreme Court “one man, one vote” ruling required districts in both legislative chambers in state houses to be divided by population rather than geographic districts. The decision led to redistricting, which allowed Democrats to retake the state Assembly, although legally-dubious gerrymandering has allowed Republicans to retain control of the Senate, though currently by a sliver of politicking that is beyond district lines.</p> <p>According to Professor Benjamin, of SUNY New Paltz, there is no rationale for bicameralism now that both houses are selected by the same formula.</p> <p>“The idea there is that bicameralism suggests that there are different bases of representation. The Senate is a territorial and the House is population-based representation. Before 1960, you could have two different bases, but now it’s no longer defensible,” said Benjamin.</p> <p>While some argue bicameralism is necessary to give Republicans a voice in the legislative process, Benjamin says GOP lawmakers should compete for the majority.</p> <p>Some who are interested in unicameralism take a different view. Last year, Assemblymember Mark Johns, a Rochester Republican, proposed legislation to eliminate the Assembly and instead increase the numbers of Senators from 63 to 75, though <a href="http://assembly.state.ny.us/leg/?default_fld=&amp;bn=A9284&amp;term=2015&amp;Memo=Y" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the bill</a> never made it to the floor and no companion bill has been presented in the Senate.</p> <p><strong>4. Make Lawmaking Unpaid</strong><br />In the past two years, already waning public trust in the state Legislature was shattered following the convictions of both legislative leaders on public corruption charges. In order to restore that trust, one lawmaker is exploring ways to get money out of politics completely.</p> <p><a href="http://assembly.state.ny.us/leg/?default_fld=&amp;leg_video=&amp;bn=A06220&amp;term=2017&amp;Summary=Y&amp;Actions=Y&amp;Committee%26nbspVotes=Y&amp;Floor%26nbspVotes=Y&amp;Memo=Y&amp;Text=Y&amp;Chamber%26nbspVideo=Y" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Legislation</a> introduced earlier this year by Republican Assemblymember David DiPietro, whose district includes Erie and Wyoming counties, would make the Legislature unpaid -- volunteer positions with an even lighter part-time schedule than lawmakers currently are required.</p> <p>“If we remove pay from the equation, only those entirely interested in serving the public would consider running for office,” DiPietro <a href="http://nyassembly.gov/mem/David-DiPietro/story/73253/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a> in his legislative column in February. “This action would save the state millions of dollars, and bring about a new era of citizen leadership. Holding this position is an honor and one that should be respected. This isn’t a full-time position and there’s no need to make it one. This is a part-time position in which you serve the people and you should be serving them with a clear conscience.”</p> <p>While no groups have specifically proposed this as a potential ConCon agenda item, a constitutional amendment would be required.</p> <p><strong>5. Special Prosecutor for Certain Police-Involved Deaths</strong><br />Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order appointing Attorney General Eric Schneiderman a special prosecutor for unarmed civilian deaths involving police officers in 2014, and though <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6778-while-cuomo-s-special-prosecutor-order-continues-calls-for-permanency-remain" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">he has renewed the executive order since</a>, there has been no movement in the Legislature on a bill to make a permanent special prosecutor.</p> <p>While civil rights organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union have not taken a position on the upcoming convention referendum, should the public vote to hold a convention, this would be one plank advocacy groups might push to enshrine in constitutional law.</p> <p><strong>6. Single-payer Healthcare</strong><br />Federal efforts to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act have renewed the discussion around New York having its own comprehensive healthcare system.</p> <p>“The New York Health program,” authored by Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, who chairs the Assembly Committee on Health, would provide comprehensive, universal health coverage for every New Yorker, and has passed the Assembly three years in a row. A similar bill has been sponsored by 30 Senate Democrats, a number which is likely to rise to 31 now that the seat of Senator-turned-City Council Member Bill Perkins has been filled, but without the requisite 32 votes in the 63-seat chamber, it is unlikely to pass any time soon.</p> <p>Effective NY <a href="http://nypeoplesconvention.org/685-2/the-right-to-health-care/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">argues for</a> a constitutional amendment that grants New Yorkers the right to health care, enabling a single-payer system.</p> <p><strong>7. Limit Messages of Necessity<br /></strong>Messages of Necessity, which allow the Governor and Legislature to override the otherwise-required three-day aging period for any piece of legislation, are often misused in Albany. Major legislation, including the recently-passed $153 billion state budget, are pushed through with little scrutiny from lawmakers, the media, and the public.</p> <p>According to one proposal put forward by Effective NY, the constitution would be amended to require a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate in order to enable a Message of Necessity.</p> <p><strong>8. Pensions for All</strong><br />More than half of private sector employees in New York State do not have access to a retirement savings plan through work. This spring, Obama-era rules allowing state- and city-based retirement savings programs were rejected by the Republican-controlled Congress. Both New York City and the State had been exploring the possibility of creating a publicly-backed private-sector retirement-savings program, but those possibilities appear scuttled, or at least on hold.</p> <p>A constitutional convention could be the best way to compel the state to guarantee a retirement program for all working New Yorkers. Samuels of Effective NY, who is committed to spending significant money for a “yes” vote on the ConCon question, has been advocating for a private sector retirement savings program for years.</p> <p><strong>9. Legalizing Marijuana</strong><br />Could New York become the next state to fully legalize medical and recreational marijuana? The legal cannabis movement is spreading across the United States, with eight states now allowing recreational use of the drug.</p> <p>New York State recently created a medical marijuana program, but only for a short list of 10 health conditions, and it may only be consumed in specific forms. However, due to highly restrictive zoning requirements that prevent access and the limited number of patients that qualify, marijuana dispensaries are struggling, <a href="http://buffalonews.com/2017/03/12/medical-marijuana-industry-fight-state-expansion-efforts/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">according to the Buffalo News</a>.</p> <p>There is also a criminal justice reform element to legalizing marijuana, as countless have been arrested and jailed for minor, non-violent drug offenses. While Gov. Cuomo unsuccessfully advocated for decriminalization laws in 2012, the governor and the Senate have consistently opposed legalizing recreational use.</p> <p>Jerome W. Dewald, who founded the PAC Restrict &amp; Regulate in NY State 2019 (<a href="https://www.legalweed4ny.com/blank-q17v5" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">RRNY</a>), says he has talked to marijuana industry leaders about utilizing the constitutional convention to advocate for full adult-use cannabis legalization in 2019.</p> <p>“It’s commonly accepted that our legislature is the most corrupt in the nation. New York is important [for marijuana legalization] and there is no viable mechanism to get our agenda in New York besides for a constitutional convention,” said Dewald.</p> <p><strong>10. Upstate Secession</strong><br />On the more extreme end of the spectrum are the Upstate New York secessionists. Ever since Vermont successfully broke away from New York in 1791, there have been secession movements in the state, though they have mostly remained on the fringe.</p> <p>The Divide NYS Caucus is a coalition of New Yorkers who are unhappy with state policy they feel is unfairly dictated by New York City lawmakers. The Assembly is controlled by Democrats, many of them from the city, while Republicans -- many of them from Long Island and upstate -- currently cling to the majority in the Senate thanks to partnerships with breakaway Democrats. In 2015, the secession movement gained steam, when upstate New Yorkers -- mostly conservatives upset over issues like the gun control Safe Act of 2013 and Cuomo’s 2014 hydrofracking ban -- organized <a href="http://nypost.com/2015/08/31/upstate-new-yorkers-rally-to-secede/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a protest</a> in the Southern Tier. Now the caucus is seizing on the potential for a convention as a way to drum up more support.</p> <p>The group <a href="http://www.newamsterdamny.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">proposes</a> dividing the state into two or three autonomous regions, separating upstate from New York City, and possibly segregating Suffolk and Nassau counties as well. Each region would have its own Governor and regional legislators, who would serve six weeks out of the year at the state Legislature, according to Divide New York Caucus Inc. Chair John Bergener.</p> <p>“The state government under the proposal would have about the same powers of the Queen of England,” said Bergener. “We are required to have an administrator and a Legislature, but we are not required to give them power.”</p> <p>While the consensus from constitutional experts is that secession is implausible and potentially damaging to upstate’s economy, <a href="http://www.politifact.com/new-york/statements/2016/sep/16/bob-duffy/upstate-economy-one-worst-country/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">which relies heavily</a> on New York City tax revenue, <a href="https://openstates.org/ny/bills/2017-2018/A1615/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a recent bill</a> sponsored by Assemblymember Stephen Hawley (Western New York), and co-signed by eight of his colleagues in the Assembly GOP, calls for a referendum on whether to separate New York City from the rest of the state.</p> <p>Related legislation introduced in the <a href="http://assembly.state.ny.us/leg/?bn=A.6140&amp;term=2017" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Assembly</a> and <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/a5425/amendment/original" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Senate</a> aims to increase power to the counties, allowing them to supersede state law, or exempt regions outside New York City from certain provisions of the SAFE Act.</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/32985722296_26b52ab3b7_z_1.jpg" alt="voting constitutional convention" width="600" height="400" /></p> <hr /> <p>When New York voters head to the polls on November 7, Election Day, printed on their ballots will be the question, “Shall there be a convention to revise the constitution and amend the same?”</p> <p>A "yes" vote would trigger a state constitutional convention process that could lead to major changes to the New York constitution.</p> <p>While the first New York Constitution dates back to 1777, the version used today was adopted in 1894, with significant modifications made following the 1938 constitutional convention. Of those in support of a convention, some simply want New Yorkers to have the chance to debate key aspects of the antiquated, 52,500-word document, while others have clear policy agendas, like government ethics reform. There are many more mainstream ideas being discussed, but also a variety of more radical proposals that could be on the table if a convention were to be called.</p> <p>The debate over whether to support a “yes” vote for a convention largely revolves around the potential to enact long-sought policy measures lawmakers seems unwilling to implement versus fears that hard-earned protections could be dismantled.</p> <p>Advocates of various political affiliations see the constitutional convention as an opportunity to push for changes to redistricting, campaign finance, and term-limits for legislators -- not to mention a comprehensive rewrite of the at-times illegible constitution document that has many vestigial pieces.</p> <p>At the same time, many labor unions and leading lawmakers are voicing their opposition to a convention. Of Albany’s five legislative conference leaders, only Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb has consistently backed a convention. Governor Andrew Cuomo has said he supports holding a convention, Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he does not.</p> <p>Due to the democratic nature of a convention, people from all over the state and across the political spectrum frustrated by a lack of movement on their priorities in Albany are seizing on the opportunity to promote their causes, and are considering running their own delegates -- representatives will be elected in 2018 if a convention is approved this November.</p> <p>Often, proposed constitutional amendments are framed in terms of “rights,” as in the right to clean air, the right to clean water, the right to hunt or farm, the right to equal treatment, the right to have a pension, and so on. Also being introduced, though, are some more unorthodox, even seemingly outlandish constitutional changes, like legalizing recreational marijuana, a dramatic restructuring of the state Legislature, or the splitting up of New York State.</p> <p>Organizations (and individuals) pining for a convention are not necessarily powerful or well-funded -- anyone with internet access <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/in-the-loop/wp/2014/04/10/how-to-start-a-super-pac-because-you-can/?utm_term=.67dd7e3fb8e3" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">can start</a> a political action committee -- and more radical proposals would be likely be countered at a convention by moderates with other priorities or competing interests.</p> <p>The multi-phase process is also designed to prevent the convention from being hijacked by a single fringe agenda. If a majority of voters say “yes” to the convention question, which appears on the ballot once every 20 years, the following Election Day, New Yorkers elect delegates to an Albany convention, who would then be charged with crafting amendments to improve and streamline the constitution. The final, key step would be that any proposed constitutional changes coming out of a convention go to voter referendum the following year.</p> <p>As a result, New Yorkers should not fear the exchange of ideas that a ConCon would allow, according to SUNY New Paltz Professor Gerald Benjamin, a constitutional scholar and longtime convention proponent.</p> <p>“There’s no common agenda for a constitutional convention. Lots of people support a right to clean water, for example, and some other people think it would lead to excessive litigation. My view is that a convention cannot and will not produce radical solutions,” Benjamin said. “There are going to be 10,000 proposals, and each will be deliberated.”</p> <p>A recent Siena College <a href="https://www.siena.edu/news-events/article/cuomo-ratings-all-up-favorability-best-in-three-years" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">poll</a> found that a strong majority of New Yorkers, 62 percent, from across the political spectrum support holding a constitution convention, a once-in-a-generation opportunity to modernize the lengthy, outdated New York State document that is the foundation of state law. Two-thirds of Democrats, 55 percent of Republicans, and 59 percent of independents polled said they support a ConCon.</p> <p>But the same study found that New Yorkers are mostly uninformed about a convention; only 13 percent have heard a “great deal” or “some” about it. The disparity between the two sets of poll responses may indicate voter frustration with their state government, which has been home to a seemingly endless torrent of corruption scandals.</p> <p>At the same time, powerful labor unions are spending big money to convince voters to reject the convention in November. While support of a ConCon remains strong, even among union families, according to the latest poll, labor organizations like the United Federation of Teachers and SEIU-1199 have already launched campaigns to sway New Yorkers towards a “no” vote.</p> <p>“Support for ConCon has remained consistently strong over the last couple of years,” said Siena College pollster Steven Greenberg, in releasing <a href="https://www.siena.edu/news-events/article/cuomo-ratings-all-up-favorability-best-in-three-years#sthash.vRHzBQ2O.dpuf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the latest poll</a>. “But the question remains, will that support stay strong as voters hear more about ConCon, particularly as we move into the fall and various interest groups start spending money to educate voters – both in support and opposition – about ConCon? Only time will tell.</p> <p>In the meantime, we've compiled a round-up of 10 of the more intriguing proposals that have emerged ahead of the upcoming referendum, ranging from bold to bizarre.</p> <p><strong>1. Reforming the Court System</strong><br />While the New York State Bar Association has not taken a position on a constitutional convention, in February, the NYSBA issued a report highlighting how an overhaul of the state constitution could go a long way towards streamlining the state’s notoriously complicated court system. A constitutional rewrite could simplify everyday legal processes related child custody, traffic tickets, business disputes, and more.</p> <p>"The potential to simplify the state's court system, promote access to justice and reduce unnecessary costs and inefficiencies make the issue of court consolidation one that is ripe for consideration at a constitutional convention, should voters choose to hold one," <a href="http://www.nysba.org/judiciaryreport2017/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the report says</a>.</p> <p><strong>2. Home Rule</strong><br />The constitution’s “home rule” statute, which dates back to 1963, says that anything not explicitly stated as purview of cities in the state constitution is placed in the authority of the state. Many issues impacting New York City fall into this grey area, including mayoral control of New York City schools and city speed limits. Cities are left disempowered and at the mercy of the state on many issues affecting local constituents. Local leaders, like the mayor of New York City, are then reliant on votes from far-off legislators related to especially parochial matters.</p> <p>One proposal, laid out by Effective NY, a liberal think tank, would change the wording of the statute to grant cities power unless specifically restricted by the constitution (like the United States Constitution’s ninth amendment, which grants states any powers not explicitly granted the federal government). Other states, like New Jersey and New Mexico, already have provisions defaulting control to municipalities.</p> <p><strong>3. Unicameral Legislature</strong><br />Does New York State really need two legislative houses? Some point to gridlock in Albany as a byproduct of the fact that New York has two legislative houses that often pass conflicting measures.</p> <p>Nebraska is currently <a href="http://www.csgmidwest.org/member_services/feb2011unicameral.aspx" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the only state</a> that has a unicameral Legislature, or a Legislature with one house.</p> <p>In 1962, the Supreme Court “one man, one vote” ruling required districts in both legislative chambers in state houses to be divided by population rather than geographic districts. The decision led to redistricting, which allowed Democrats to retake the state Assembly, although legally-dubious gerrymandering has allowed Republicans to retain control of the Senate, though currently by a sliver of politicking that is beyond district lines.</p> <p>According to Professor Benjamin, of SUNY New Paltz, there is no rationale for bicameralism now that both houses are selected by the same formula.</p> <p>“The idea there is that bicameralism suggests that there are different bases of representation. The Senate is a territorial and the House is population-based representation. Before 1960, you could have two different bases, but now it’s no longer defensible,” said Benjamin.</p> <p>While some argue bicameralism is necessary to give Republicans a voice in the legislative process, Benjamin says GOP lawmakers should compete for the majority.</p> <p>Some who are interested in unicameralism take a different view. Last year, Assemblymember Mark Johns, a Rochester Republican, proposed legislation to eliminate the Assembly and instead increase the numbers of Senators from 63 to 75, though <a href="http://assembly.state.ny.us/leg/?default_fld=&amp;bn=A9284&amp;term=2015&amp;Memo=Y" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the bill</a> never made it to the floor and no companion bill has been presented in the Senate.</p> <p><strong>4. Make Lawmaking Unpaid</strong><br />In the past two years, already waning public trust in the state Legislature was shattered following the convictions of both legislative leaders on public corruption charges. In order to restore that trust, one lawmaker is exploring ways to get money out of politics completely.</p> <p><a href="http://assembly.state.ny.us/leg/?default_fld=&amp;leg_video=&amp;bn=A06220&amp;term=2017&amp;Summary=Y&amp;Actions=Y&amp;Committee%26nbspVotes=Y&amp;Floor%26nbspVotes=Y&amp;Memo=Y&amp;Text=Y&amp;Chamber%26nbspVideo=Y" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Legislation</a> introduced earlier this year by Republican Assemblymember David DiPietro, whose district includes Erie and Wyoming counties, would make the Legislature unpaid -- volunteer positions with an even lighter part-time schedule than lawmakers currently are required.</p> <p>“If we remove pay from the equation, only those entirely interested in serving the public would consider running for office,” DiPietro <a href="http://nyassembly.gov/mem/David-DiPietro/story/73253/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a> in his legislative column in February. “This action would save the state millions of dollars, and bring about a new era of citizen leadership. Holding this position is an honor and one that should be respected. This isn’t a full-time position and there’s no need to make it one. This is a part-time position in which you serve the people and you should be serving them with a clear conscience.”</p> <p>While no groups have specifically proposed this as a potential ConCon agenda item, a constitutional amendment would be required.</p> <p><strong>5. Special Prosecutor for Certain Police-Involved Deaths</strong><br />Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order appointing Attorney General Eric Schneiderman a special prosecutor for unarmed civilian deaths involving police officers in 2014, and though <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6778-while-cuomo-s-special-prosecutor-order-continues-calls-for-permanency-remain" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">he has renewed the executive order since</a>, there has been no movement in the Legislature on a bill to make a permanent special prosecutor.</p> <p>While civil rights organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union have not taken a position on the upcoming convention referendum, should the public vote to hold a convention, this would be one plank advocacy groups might push to enshrine in constitutional law.</p> <p><strong>6. Single-payer Healthcare</strong><br />Federal efforts to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act have renewed the discussion around New York having its own comprehensive healthcare system.</p> <p>“The New York Health program,” authored by Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, who chairs the Assembly Committee on Health, would provide comprehensive, universal health coverage for every New Yorker, and has passed the Assembly three years in a row. A similar bill has been sponsored by 30 Senate Democrats, a number which is likely to rise to 31 now that the seat of Senator-turned-City Council Member Bill Perkins has been filled, but without the requisite 32 votes in the 63-seat chamber, it is unlikely to pass any time soon.</p> <p>Effective NY <a href="http://nypeoplesconvention.org/685-2/the-right-to-health-care/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">argues for</a> a constitutional amendment that grants New Yorkers the right to health care, enabling a single-payer system.</p> <p><strong>7. Limit Messages of Necessity<br /></strong>Messages of Necessity, which allow the Governor and Legislature to override the otherwise-required three-day aging period for any piece of legislation, are often misused in Albany. Major legislation, including the recently-passed $153 billion state budget, are pushed through with little scrutiny from lawmakers, the media, and the public.</p> <p>According to one proposal put forward by Effective NY, the constitution would be amended to require a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate in order to enable a Message of Necessity.</p> <p><strong>8. Pensions for All</strong><br />More than half of private sector employees in New York State do not have access to a retirement savings plan through work. This spring, Obama-era rules allowing state- and city-based retirement savings programs were rejected by the Republican-controlled Congress. Both New York City and the State had been exploring the possibility of creating a publicly-backed private-sector retirement-savings program, but those possibilities appear scuttled, or at least on hold.</p> <p>A constitutional convention could be the best way to compel the state to guarantee a retirement program for all working New Yorkers. Samuels of Effective NY, who is committed to spending significant money for a “yes” vote on the ConCon question, has been advocating for a private sector retirement savings program for years.</p> <p><strong>9. Legalizing Marijuana</strong><br />Could New York become the next state to fully legalize medical and recreational marijuana? The legal cannabis movement is spreading across the United States, with eight states now allowing recreational use of the drug.</p> <p>New York State recently created a medical marijuana program, but only for a short list of 10 health conditions, and it may only be consumed in specific forms. However, due to highly restrictive zoning requirements that prevent access and the limited number of patients that qualify, marijuana dispensaries are struggling, <a href="http://buffalonews.com/2017/03/12/medical-marijuana-industry-fight-state-expansion-efforts/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">according to the Buffalo News</a>.</p> <p>There is also a criminal justice reform element to legalizing marijuana, as countless have been arrested and jailed for minor, non-violent drug offenses. While Gov. Cuomo unsuccessfully advocated for decriminalization laws in 2012, the governor and the Senate have consistently opposed legalizing recreational use.</p> <p>Jerome W. Dewald, who founded the PAC Restrict &amp; Regulate in NY State 2019 (<a href="https://www.legalweed4ny.com/blank-q17v5" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">RRNY</a>), says he has talked to marijuana industry leaders about utilizing the constitutional convention to advocate for full adult-use cannabis legalization in 2019.</p> <p>“It’s commonly accepted that our legislature is the most corrupt in the nation. New York is important [for marijuana legalization] and there is no viable mechanism to get our agenda in New York besides for a constitutional convention,” said Dewald.</p> <p><strong>10. Upstate Secession</strong><br />On the more extreme end of the spectrum are the Upstate New York secessionists. Ever since Vermont successfully broke away from New York in 1791, there have been secession movements in the state, though they have mostly remained on the fringe.</p> <p>The Divide NYS Caucus is a coalition of New Yorkers who are unhappy with state policy they feel is unfairly dictated by New York City lawmakers. The Assembly is controlled by Democrats, many of them from the city, while Republicans -- many of them from Long Island and upstate -- currently cling to the majority in the Senate thanks to partnerships with breakaway Democrats. In 2015, the secession movement gained steam, when upstate New Yorkers -- mostly conservatives upset over issues like the gun control Safe Act of 2013 and Cuomo’s 2014 hydrofracking ban -- organized <a href="http://nypost.com/2015/08/31/upstate-new-yorkers-rally-to-secede/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a protest</a> in the Southern Tier. Now the caucus is seizing on the potential for a convention as a way to drum up more support.</p> <p>The group <a href="http://www.newamsterdamny.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">proposes</a> dividing the state into two or three autonomous regions, separating upstate from New York City, and possibly segregating Suffolk and Nassau counties as well. Each region would have its own Governor and regional legislators, who would serve six weeks out of the year at the state Legislature, according to Divide New York Caucus Inc. Chair John Bergener.</p> <p>“The state government under the proposal would have about the same powers of the Queen of England,” said Bergener. “We are required to have an administrator and a Legislature, but we are not required to give them power.”</p> <p>While the consensus from constitutional experts is that secession is implausible and potentially damaging to upstate’s economy, <a href="http://www.politifact.com/new-york/statements/2016/sep/16/bob-duffy/upstate-economy-one-worst-country/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">which relies heavily</a> on New York City tax revenue, <a href="https://openstates.org/ny/bills/2017-2018/A1615/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a recent bill</a> sponsored by Assemblymember Stephen Hawley (Western New York), and co-signed by eight of his colleagues in the Assembly GOP, calls for a referendum on whether to separate New York City from the rest of the state.</p> <p>Related legislation introduced in the <a href="http://assembly.state.ny.us/leg/?bn=A.6140&amp;term=2017" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Assembly</a> and <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/a5425/amendment/original" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Senate</a> aims to increase power to the counties, allowing them to supersede state law, or exempt regions outside New York City from certain provisions of the SAFE Act.</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
The Evolving Powers of the New York Attorney General 2017-05-17T04:00:00+00:00 2017-05-17T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6939:the-evolving-powers-of-the-new-york-attorney-general Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/20457836492_16f5676f01_z.jpg" alt="schneiderman cuomo attorney general" width="600" height="398" /></p> <p>Cuomo &amp; Schneiderman (photo: The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>The office of New York Attorney General has recently become one of the most high-profile law enforcement jobs in the country, and a springboard to the Governor’s Mansion, with its own heightened powers and prestige. Both Eliot Spitzer and Andrew Cuomo jumped from Attorney General to Governor of New York after tenures marked by major prosecutorial victories, and there is plenty of talk that current A.G. Eric Schneiderman -- one of the leading national opponents of President Donald Trump through his litigation efforts -- has his eyes on a similar leap.</p> <p>But this outsized role for the New York Attorney General, the head of the Law Department and the chief lawyer representing the state, hasn’t always been so -- in fact, the move to law enforcement leader prosecuting major public corruption, financial industry malfeasance, and other cases is a new phenomenon largely ushered in by Spitzer.</p> <p>The <a href="https://www.dos.ny.gov/info/constitution.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York State Constitution</a> actually has very little to say about the Attorney General. The document outlines, in detail, the powers of the Governor, Lieutenant-Governor, and State Comptroller, the other elected offices in the executive branch, but the Attorney General’s power is mostly derived from statutes rather than the state constitution itself.</p> <p>The Constitution doesn’t spell out the Attorney General’s power of enforcement, but rather, lists some of the office’s clerical duties. The document states that the Attorney General is to be elected “at the same general election as the governor and hold office for the same term,” that the Attorney General shall be the head of the Law Department, that the AG shall render opinions on proposed constitutional amendments prior to a vote in the Assembly and Senate, and that state money and measures violating the constitution can be restrained “on notice” of the AG “at the suit of the people.”</p> <p>The actual enforcement and prosecutorial power against crime in the Constitution is endowed in District Attorneys. The Attorney General would focus on defending both the state of New York and the people of the state of New York. For example, Schneiderman’s office created a “Taxpayer Protection Bureau” to more diligently root out abuses, fraud, and theft committed against taxpayers whether it be through fraud in government programs, investments, or contracts.</p> <p>But the Attorney General has gradually become a regulator rather than chief lawyer. Schneiderman’s tenure has seen crackdowns on tenant abuse by landlords, on malfeasance and opacity in the nonprofit sector, and on daily fantasy sports leagues like DraftKings, to name a few things; his office filed the initial lawsuit against Trump University, the President’s fraudulent college; he refused to join a settlement with the Obama administration and all other State Attorneys General over fraudulent mortgage dealings by banks, believing that more could be attained. He turned out to be correct.</p> <p>This kind of outsize visibility and power has been building for some time.</p> <p>According to Gerald Benjamin, the director of the Benjamin Center at SUNY New Paltz and a leading expert on state constitutions, especially New York’s, the Attorney General "was empowered without the constitution," but instead in common law, to become what it is today. The original intent of the position was to be the state’s chief lawyer, while prosecutorial power would be delineated to the various district attorneys. But various AGs -- more so recently -- have sought instead to be high profile prosecutors due to the visibility and political capital that such a role can bring.</p> <p>The office is elected separately from the governor, like in most other states, and enjoys a certain sense of independence from the chief executive. However, the attorney general can be empowered in certain areas by the governor, such as Governor Cuomo <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6778-while-cuomo-s-special-prosecutor-order-continues-calls-for-permanency-remain" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">using an executive order to assign Eric Schneiderman with prosecutorial authority</a> over some potential police misconduct, a plan opposed by four out of five of New York City’s District Attorneys at the time it was proposed. (Some have suggested that DAs are too close with local police departments to impartially review improper use of deadly force by police; at the time Schneiderman requested that Cuomo grant him the additional power in such cases, Daniel Pantaleo, the police officer whose chokehold killed Eric Garner, had recently escaped an indictment.)</p> <p>According to Richard Rifkin, special counsel to the New York State Bar Association who formerly worked under Attorneys General Robert Abrams and Eliot Spitzer, the governor granting power to the AG doesn’t tether them together. “The governor,” he said, “once having given the attorney general the power, would not interfere with the attorney general,” referring to the AG as “truly an independent prosecutor.”</p> <p>The position of attorney general has recently become something of a gubernatorial catapult. Schneiderman’s two immediate predecessors, Spitzer and Cuomo, went on to be elected governor successively. And many expect Schneiderman, who has <a href="http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/02/eric-schneiderman-donald-trump-new-york-214734" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">emerged</a> as a leading opponent of President Trump, suing and threatening to sue Trump and the administration on matters ranging from the Muslim ban to the American Health Care Act, to pursue the same path (Schneiderman has also been criticized for going after Trump so fervently, with some saying he is overstepping his bounds, while he argues that everything he has pursued related to Trump has been applicable to his work representing New York.). All three men enjoyed high profiles during their tenures in the office, due in part to their visible roles as prosecutors of the powerful, whether government officials, Wall Street firms, or even the President.</p> <p>But the position hasn’t always been this way. In fact, arguably the only other New York attorney general in recent history who used the position as a springboard to a higher position in government was Jacob Javits, who was only attorney general for two years before being elected to the U.S. Senate (in fact, Javits served concurrently as U.S. senator and New York attorney general for six days in 1957).</p> <p>According to Professor Benjamin, it was “relatively rare” for an attorney general to seek higher elected office, such as Governor or U.S. Senator, prior to Robert Abrams’ 1994 Senate run, which he lost to incumbent Republican Al D’Amato. Attorneys general have also more recently sought to take the lead on issues of “statewide and national importance,” such as climate change, gun control, and sanctuary cities, “the effect of [which] has been to elevate their importance in state politics” and draw more ambitious politicians to the position, Benjamin noted. While virtually any attorney general from any state could pursue such goals, New York’s size and prominence make the possibility all the more attractive and plausible for the state’s AG.</p> <p>All of these attorneys general expanded their power at least partially on the basis of a single 1921 statute known as the Martin Act, which gives the New York AG vastly greater latitude in prosecuting financial crimes against shareholders.</p> <p>Among “Blue Sky Laws,” which are laws designed to protect investors from securities fraud, the Martin Act is largely considered to be the toughest in the nation. That wasn’t always the case though, as New York’s blue sky law was initially weaker than that of many other states, until the New York Supreme Court determined in <a href="https://casetext.com/case/people-v-federated-radio-corporation-1" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">People v Federated Radio Corporation</a> (1926) that the act’s purpose was to “defeat all kinds of fraud in connection with the sale of securities and commodities and to defeat all unsubstantial and visionary schemes in relation thereto whereby the public is fraudulently exploited,” even if the fraud can’t be proven to have “originated in any actual evil design or contrivance to perpetrate fraud or injury upon others.”</p> <p>Spitzer’s 2002 settlement with Merrill Lynch, totaling $100 million, over conflict-of-interest allegations is seen as a pivotal point on the road to what the AG has become today. Prior to Spitzer’s tenure, it was mostly used for smaller financial violations, such as “shady pharmacists, Ponzi schemes, and peddlers of fraudulent Salvador Dali lithographs,” according to a <a href="http://www.legalaffairs.org/issues/May-June-2004/feature_thompson_mayjun04.msp" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2004 article</a> in Legal Affairs by Nicholas Thompson, published prior to the revelation of the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme, for which Andrew Cuomo used the Martin Act when he was attorney general.</p> <p>Spitzer was no stranger to the way the office changed under his tenure, and made it central to his gubernatorial campaign. In a gubernatorial debate with Republican John Faso, Spitzer claimed that “we’ve transformed an office that once stood for very little, into an office that brought cases that reflected the values we all share. Integrity on Wall Street to protect your pensions; honesty and accountability in government to pursue fraud and recover more money in Medicaid waste than ever before; and honesty in the pharmaceutical sector to make sure that companies told you the truth about the pharmaceuticals you were using. These are the values I hope to bring to Albany.” However, once in office, Spitzer found the office to be more constricting than the A.G., leading to frequent clashes with state legislators such as then Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, and his approval ratings were already low before he resigned in disgrace due to a prostitution scandal.</p> <p>Spitzer’s words have inspired his successors; rather than the A.G. being a “sleepy” job that just goes after small-time hucksters and defends the state in court, the office is now a formidable foe against powerful interests, and the attention those pursuits bring to the person at the helm can propel them to high office.</p> <p>Schneiderman, who once represented financial firms in private practice, has used the Martin Act to pursue his “Insider Trading 2.0” initiative, obtaining multimillion-dollar settlements from financial institutions such as Deutsche Bank, BlackRock, and Barclays, as well as settlements with banks such as Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs over deceptive practices leading up to the financial crisis.</p> <p>Beyond its use as a tool against large financial institutions, Schneiderman has used the act as a basis for a probe into ExxonMobil, arguing that its alleged failure to disclose to its shareholders and the public research that showed the potential impact of climate change constituted a Martin Act violation. Schneiderman issued a subpoena for the documents containing Exxon’s research, to which Exxon countersued. The suit was recently in the news when it was revealed that U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, formerly the CEO of Exxon, had used an alias, Wayne Tracker, in emails relating to the case that were “lost.” A court had ordered the documents to be released.</p> <p>The New York AG also has leeway into how settlement funds are used. In a press release on April 11, Schneiderman announced that $20 million of funds from settlements with Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley would be used “to provide local governments with innovative technology to address and transform problem properties—including homes and buildings that are blighted, poorly maintained, vacant, abandoned, and in financial distress—that fell into disrepair following the foreclosure crisis,” as part of a program called Cities for Responsible Investment and Strategic Enforcement, or Cities RISE.</p> <p>Previously, Schneiderman’s office had <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6686-massive-bank-settlements-fueled-spending-spree-by-electeds" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">used</a> settlement funds on other programs designed to assist homeowners post-housing crisis, such as the Homeowner Protection Program, providing legal services for homeowners, and the Mortgage Assistance Program, providing zero-interest loans to homeowners who are at risk of foreclosure; the office has also funded land banks with settlement money.</p> <p>The use of settlement funds by Schneiderman is just one of many examples of how recent attorneys general have secured new money through investigative and prosecutorial work that they’ve then used for whatever priorities they see fit, at times expanding their office’s reach even further beyond the traditional role of AG.</p> <p>Proponents of the Martin Act have noted the high rate at which financial crimes are prosecuted in New York; opponents have argued that the law has been used by attorneys general to score political points and boost political profiles, and that it’s been used improperly due to the broadness of the statute.</p> <p>Paul Atkins, the head of Wall Street consulting firm Patomak Global Partners and the financial regulatory advisor to Donald Trump during his presidential transition, is an opponent of the Martin Act and other blue sky laws. He did not follow the president to the White House, however.</p> <p>A referendum will appear on the ballot this November, asking New Yorkers if the state should convene a constitutional convention, which would make recommendations for potential changes to the state constitution. The last convention was held in 1967, but the state failed to accept the recommendations that emerged when they were later on another ballot referendum.</p> <p>Professor Benjamin, a strong supporter of a constitutional convention, believes that the attorney general would seek to cement, even broaden, authority if the measure were to pass in November and a constitutional convention is indeed held. "I think they'd be well advised to try and get some of the powers of their office constitutionally grounded,” he said, “as the powers of the other state elected offices in New York are constitutionally grounded.”</p> <p>For example, there could be discussion of granting the attorney general blanket prosecutorial jurisdiction to pursue public corruption cases against elected or appointed government officials. It is a power Cuomo sought as AG, but was not granted; and a power Schneiderman has sought as AG, but has not been granted by Cuomo.</p> <p>Rifkin, meanwhile, believes that the AG, or any agency head, be they elected or appointed, should not push for codified powers in the constitution should a convention come to fruition. “That’s because the agencies need the powers that they need in this particular moment in time,” he said. “New issues come up, new problems arise, and life goes on, and when they’re locked in the constitution, government just can’t adjust to the current situation.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6778-while-cuomo-s-special-prosecutor-order-continues-calls-for-permanency-remain" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">How Cuomo's Special Prosecutor Order is Playing Out, 19 Months Later</a>]</p> <p>

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/20457836492_16f5676f01_z.jpg" alt="schneiderman cuomo attorney general" width="600" height="398" /></p> <p>Cuomo &amp; Schneiderman (photo: The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>The office of New York Attorney General has recently become one of the most high-profile law enforcement jobs in the country, and a springboard to the Governor’s Mansion, with its own heightened powers and prestige. Both Eliot Spitzer and Andrew Cuomo jumped from Attorney General to Governor of New York after tenures marked by major prosecutorial victories, and there is plenty of talk that current A.G. Eric Schneiderman -- one of the leading national opponents of President Donald Trump through his litigation efforts -- has his eyes on a similar leap.</p> <p>But this outsized role for the New York Attorney General, the head of the Law Department and the chief lawyer representing the state, hasn’t always been so -- in fact, the move to law enforcement leader prosecuting major public corruption, financial industry malfeasance, and other cases is a new phenomenon largely ushered in by Spitzer.</p> <p>The <a href="https://www.dos.ny.gov/info/constitution.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York State Constitution</a> actually has very little to say about the Attorney General. The document outlines, in detail, the powers of the Governor, Lieutenant-Governor, and State Comptroller, the other elected offices in the executive branch, but the Attorney General’s power is mostly derived from statutes rather than the state constitution itself.</p> <p>The Constitution doesn’t spell out the Attorney General’s power of enforcement, but rather, lists some of the office’s clerical duties. The document states that the Attorney General is to be elected “at the same general election as the governor and hold office for the same term,” that the Attorney General shall be the head of the Law Department, that the AG shall render opinions on proposed constitutional amendments prior to a vote in the Assembly and Senate, and that state money and measures violating the constitution can be restrained “on notice” of the AG “at the suit of the people.”</p> <p>The actual enforcement and prosecutorial power against crime in the Constitution is endowed in District Attorneys. The Attorney General would focus on defending both the state of New York and the people of the state of New York. For example, Schneiderman’s office created a “Taxpayer Protection Bureau” to more diligently root out abuses, fraud, and theft committed against taxpayers whether it be through fraud in government programs, investments, or contracts.</p> <p>But the Attorney General has gradually become a regulator rather than chief lawyer. Schneiderman’s tenure has seen crackdowns on tenant abuse by landlords, on malfeasance and opacity in the nonprofit sector, and on daily fantasy sports leagues like DraftKings, to name a few things; his office filed the initial lawsuit against Trump University, the President’s fraudulent college; he refused to join a settlement with the Obama administration and all other State Attorneys General over fraudulent mortgage dealings by banks, believing that more could be attained. He turned out to be correct.</p> <p>This kind of outsize visibility and power has been building for some time.</p> <p>According to Gerald Benjamin, the director of the Benjamin Center at SUNY New Paltz and a leading expert on state constitutions, especially New York’s, the Attorney General "was empowered without the constitution," but instead in common law, to become what it is today. The original intent of the position was to be the state’s chief lawyer, while prosecutorial power would be delineated to the various district attorneys. But various AGs -- more so recently -- have sought instead to be high profile prosecutors due to the visibility and political capital that such a role can bring.</p> <p>The office is elected separately from the governor, like in most other states, and enjoys a certain sense of independence from the chief executive. However, the attorney general can be empowered in certain areas by the governor, such as Governor Cuomo <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6778-while-cuomo-s-special-prosecutor-order-continues-calls-for-permanency-remain" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">using an executive order to assign Eric Schneiderman with prosecutorial authority</a> over some potential police misconduct, a plan opposed by four out of five of New York City’s District Attorneys at the time it was proposed. (Some have suggested that DAs are too close with local police departments to impartially review improper use of deadly force by police; at the time Schneiderman requested that Cuomo grant him the additional power in such cases, Daniel Pantaleo, the police officer whose chokehold killed Eric Garner, had recently escaped an indictment.)</p> <p>According to Richard Rifkin, special counsel to the New York State Bar Association who formerly worked under Attorneys General Robert Abrams and Eliot Spitzer, the governor granting power to the AG doesn’t tether them together. “The governor,” he said, “once having given the attorney general the power, would not interfere with the attorney general,” referring to the AG as “truly an independent prosecutor.”</p> <p>The position of attorney general has recently become something of a gubernatorial catapult. Schneiderman’s two immediate predecessors, Spitzer and Cuomo, went on to be elected governor successively. And many expect Schneiderman, who has <a href="http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/02/eric-schneiderman-donald-trump-new-york-214734" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">emerged</a> as a leading opponent of President Trump, suing and threatening to sue Trump and the administration on matters ranging from the Muslim ban to the American Health Care Act, to pursue the same path (Schneiderman has also been criticized for going after Trump so fervently, with some saying he is overstepping his bounds, while he argues that everything he has pursued related to Trump has been applicable to his work representing New York.). All three men enjoyed high profiles during their tenures in the office, due in part to their visible roles as prosecutors of the powerful, whether government officials, Wall Street firms, or even the President.</p> <p>But the position hasn’t always been this way. In fact, arguably the only other New York attorney general in recent history who used the position as a springboard to a higher position in government was Jacob Javits, who was only attorney general for two years before being elected to the U.S. Senate (in fact, Javits served concurrently as U.S. senator and New York attorney general for six days in 1957).</p> <p>According to Professor Benjamin, it was “relatively rare” for an attorney general to seek higher elected office, such as Governor or U.S. Senator, prior to Robert Abrams’ 1994 Senate run, which he lost to incumbent Republican Al D’Amato. Attorneys general have also more recently sought to take the lead on issues of “statewide and national importance,” such as climate change, gun control, and sanctuary cities, “the effect of [which] has been to elevate their importance in state politics” and draw more ambitious politicians to the position, Benjamin noted. While virtually any attorney general from any state could pursue such goals, New York’s size and prominence make the possibility all the more attractive and plausible for the state’s AG.</p> <p>All of these attorneys general expanded their power at least partially on the basis of a single 1921 statute known as the Martin Act, which gives the New York AG vastly greater latitude in prosecuting financial crimes against shareholders.</p> <p>Among “Blue Sky Laws,” which are laws designed to protect investors from securities fraud, the Martin Act is largely considered to be the toughest in the nation. That wasn’t always the case though, as New York’s blue sky law was initially weaker than that of many other states, until the New York Supreme Court determined in <a href="https://casetext.com/case/people-v-federated-radio-corporation-1" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">People v Federated Radio Corporation</a> (1926) that the act’s purpose was to “defeat all kinds of fraud in connection with the sale of securities and commodities and to defeat all unsubstantial and visionary schemes in relation thereto whereby the public is fraudulently exploited,” even if the fraud can’t be proven to have “originated in any actual evil design or contrivance to perpetrate fraud or injury upon others.”</p> <p>Spitzer’s 2002 settlement with Merrill Lynch, totaling $100 million, over conflict-of-interest allegations is seen as a pivotal point on the road to what the AG has become today. Prior to Spitzer’s tenure, it was mostly used for smaller financial violations, such as “shady pharmacists, Ponzi schemes, and peddlers of fraudulent Salvador Dali lithographs,” according to a <a href="http://www.legalaffairs.org/issues/May-June-2004/feature_thompson_mayjun04.msp" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2004 article</a> in Legal Affairs by Nicholas Thompson, published prior to the revelation of the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme, for which Andrew Cuomo used the Martin Act when he was attorney general.</p> <p>Spitzer was no stranger to the way the office changed under his tenure, and made it central to his gubernatorial campaign. In a gubernatorial debate with Republican John Faso, Spitzer claimed that “we’ve transformed an office that once stood for very little, into an office that brought cases that reflected the values we all share. Integrity on Wall Street to protect your pensions; honesty and accountability in government to pursue fraud and recover more money in Medicaid waste than ever before; and honesty in the pharmaceutical sector to make sure that companies told you the truth about the pharmaceuticals you were using. These are the values I hope to bring to Albany.” However, once in office, Spitzer found the office to be more constricting than the A.G., leading to frequent clashes with state legislators such as then Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, and his approval ratings were already low before he resigned in disgrace due to a prostitution scandal.</p> <p>Spitzer’s words have inspired his successors; rather than the A.G. being a “sleepy” job that just goes after small-time hucksters and defends the state in court, the office is now a formidable foe against powerful interests, and the attention those pursuits bring to the person at the helm can propel them to high office.</p> <p>Schneiderman, who once represented financial firms in private practice, has used the Martin Act to pursue his “Insider Trading 2.0” initiative, obtaining multimillion-dollar settlements from financial institutions such as Deutsche Bank, BlackRock, and Barclays, as well as settlements with banks such as Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs over deceptive practices leading up to the financial crisis.</p> <p>Beyond its use as a tool against large financial institutions, Schneiderman has used the act as a basis for a probe into ExxonMobil, arguing that its alleged failure to disclose to its shareholders and the public research that showed the potential impact of climate change constituted a Martin Act violation. Schneiderman issued a subpoena for the documents containing Exxon’s research, to which Exxon countersued. The suit was recently in the news when it was revealed that U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, formerly the CEO of Exxon, had used an alias, Wayne Tracker, in emails relating to the case that were “lost.” A court had ordered the documents to be released.</p> <p>The New York AG also has leeway into how settlement funds are used. In a press release on April 11, Schneiderman announced that $20 million of funds from settlements with Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley would be used “to provide local governments with innovative technology to address and transform problem properties—including homes and buildings that are blighted, poorly maintained, vacant, abandoned, and in financial distress—that fell into disrepair following the foreclosure crisis,” as part of a program called Cities for Responsible Investment and Strategic Enforcement, or Cities RISE.</p> <p>Previously, Schneiderman’s office had <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6686-massive-bank-settlements-fueled-spending-spree-by-electeds" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">used</a> settlement funds on other programs designed to assist homeowners post-housing crisis, such as the Homeowner Protection Program, providing legal services for homeowners, and the Mortgage Assistance Program, providing zero-interest loans to homeowners who are at risk of foreclosure; the office has also funded land banks with settlement money.</p> <p>The use of settlement funds by Schneiderman is just one of many examples of how recent attorneys general have secured new money through investigative and prosecutorial work that they’ve then used for whatever priorities they see fit, at times expanding their office’s reach even further beyond the traditional role of AG.</p> <p>Proponents of the Martin Act have noted the high rate at which financial crimes are prosecuted in New York; opponents have argued that the law has been used by attorneys general to score political points and boost political profiles, and that it’s been used improperly due to the broadness of the statute.</p> <p>Paul Atkins, the head of Wall Street consulting firm Patomak Global Partners and the financial regulatory advisor to Donald Trump during his presidential transition, is an opponent of the Martin Act and other blue sky laws. He did not follow the president to the White House, however.</p> <p>A referendum will appear on the ballot this November, asking New Yorkers if the state should convene a constitutional convention, which would make recommendations for potential changes to the state constitution. The last convention was held in 1967, but the state failed to accept the recommendations that emerged when they were later on another ballot referendum.</p> <p>Professor Benjamin, a strong supporter of a constitutional convention, believes that the attorney general would seek to cement, even broaden, authority if the measure were to pass in November and a constitutional convention is indeed held. "I think they'd be well advised to try and get some of the powers of their office constitutionally grounded,” he said, “as the powers of the other state elected offices in New York are constitutionally grounded.”</p> <p>For example, there could be discussion of granting the attorney general blanket prosecutorial jurisdiction to pursue public corruption cases against elected or appointed government officials. It is a power Cuomo sought as AG, but was not granted; and a power Schneiderman has sought as AG, but has not been granted by Cuomo.</p> <p>Rifkin, meanwhile, believes that the AG, or any agency head, be they elected or appointed, should not push for codified powers in the constitution should a convention come to fruition. “That’s because the agencies need the powers that they need in this particular moment in time,” he said. “New issues come up, new problems arise, and life goes on, and when they’re locked in the constitution, government just can’t adjust to the current situation.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6778-while-cuomo-s-special-prosecutor-order-continues-calls-for-permanency-remain" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">How Cuomo's Special Prosecutor Order is Playing Out, 19 Months Later</a>]</p> <p>

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
As Legislative Leaders Warn of Con Con Dangers, Good Government Groups Come Out in Favor 2017-05-16T04:00:00+00:00 2017-05-16T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6935:as-legislative-leaders-warn-of-con-con-dangers-good-government-groups-come-out-in-favor Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/assembly_chamber_via_wikicommons.jpg" alt="assembly chamber via wikicommons" width="600" height="351" /></p> <p>The Assembly (photo: wikicommons)</p> <hr /> <p>While legislative leaders are declaring opposition to a New York State constitutional convention, government reform organizations are trending in the other direction, with some who were wary of the idea in previous years coming out in support or considering doing so.</p> <p>Leading up to the November 7 vote on whether to hold a convention, the debate is shaping up around fear of what could be taken away versus hope that the public can take a shot at democratic reform.</p> <p>Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, in a joint appearance in Albany on May 9, both warned of dangers posed by deep-pocketed interests from outside the state, who could potentially derail a “people’s convention.”</p> <p>“I understand people’s desire to put it in the hands of the people to decide. But people are also subjected to campaigns,” Heastie said at the event at the Albany Times Union’s Hearst Media Center. “I think we should be very, very careful in exposing the constitution to the whims of someone from outside of the state who can decide to spend millions of dollars to put forward their position.”</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6769-as-con-con-debate-heats-up-heastie-declares-opposition" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Heastie</a> and Flanagan, of the Bronx and Long Island, respectively, suggested that the state instead continue using piecemeal constitutional amendments to update the lengthy, outdated document. Such amendments must be passed by two consecutive legislative classes, then the public via singular ballot amendment.</p> <p>Similar sentiments have been expressed by Senator Jeff Klein, leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group of Senate Democrats that forms a ruling coalition with the GOP, and, most recently, by Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/dem-warns-convention-change-n-y-constitution-article-1.3148452" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an interview with The Daily News</a>. On the other hand, Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, an upstate Republican, has for years been an outspoken proponent of holding a convention and is the only legislative conference leader in support of a “yes” vote on this year’s November ballot question as to whether New York should hold a convention to edit or rewrite its constitution.</p> <p>The authors of the New York State Constitution included a provision that once every 20 years, the public would have the opportunity to completely overhaul and modernize the document. So, this Election Day, voters will vote on whether to hold a constitutional convention -- or a “con con,” as it is sometimes called -- and if the referendum passes, the people will then elect delegates, who would convene to potentially rewrite, or significantly propose modifications to the state constitution. Those proposals would then go before voters as a slate of changes to be voted up or down.</p> <p>While legislative leaders are expressing their fear of a con con, a growing number of government reform advocates say it’s an opportunity to enact long-sought reforms that have been stagnant in the Legislature.</p> <p>In March, for the first time in half a century, the League of Women Voters’ New York chapter <a href="http://files.constantcontact.com/37d635eb001/d805e949-b29f-4b1b-86a3-6ca4c081d62c.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">endorsed a “yes” vote</a> for the once-in-a-generation referendum, citing electoral reforms, campaign finance reform, fair legislative redistricting, and the modernization of New York’s court system as motivating factors. The League had been instrumental in the last convention, which took place in 1967, but did not produce the sweeping reforms many had hoped for, and ultimately all the proposed amendments, which were controversially presented to voters as a package deal, were voted down.</p> <p>In the 1990s, the group’s board had a policy that the League would not endorse another constitutional convention unless the essential changes were made to the delegate selection and convention process. Five years ago, LWV board members agreed to modify that policy; rather than automatically opposing a convention that did not meet those requirements, the board would reconvene and consider whether to support a convention while thoroughly weighing delegate election and transparency concerns.</p> <p>In 1997, the last time a con con was on the ballot, most good government groups chose to remain neutral on the ballot question, focussing instead on launching educational campaigns about the pros and cons of holding a convention, and potential issues to be addressed. Only Citizens Union, one of New York’s leading government reform organizations (and sister organization to Gotham Gazette’s publisher, Citizens Union Foundation), has consistently backed a constitutional convention, despite what was to many a disappointing outcome from the 1967 convention.</p> <p>Twenty years ago, as was the case during previous con con votes, there was some momentum to back a convention prior to the vote, and public opinion polls showed significant interest. But a last-minute ad campaign by labor unions and other interest groups ultimately dissuaded voters for voting “yes” on the ballot question.</p> <p>“The campaign to defeat the convention referendum has created some of the oddest political bedfellows in recent memory. The A.F.L.-C.I.O., the Conservative Party, the Sierra Club, the National Abortion Rights Action League, legislators of both parties and Change New York, the anti-tax group, were united against the measure,” wrote Richard Perez-Pena, for the New York Times, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/1997/11/05/nyregion/the-1997-elections-ballot-question-voters-reject-constitutional-convention.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">on November 5, 1997</a>, just before the con con vote that year.</p> <p>This year -- which follows a two-decade stretch that has seen dozens of elected officials leave office due to ethical or legal scandal -- there appears to be a marked shift and legislative leaders are finding themselves at odds with government reform organizations who view the convention more favorably, even those who sat out the vote in 1997.</p> <p>Citizens Union is again in suppor and the League of Women Voters is not the only government reform organization reevaluating its stance. The New York State Bar Association (NYSBA), which as part of its mission seeks to raise judicial standards and reform the legal system, will discuss the issue at its upcoming House of Delegates meeting on June 17, and consider voting on whether to take a position on the ballot measure, a spokesperson has confirmed.</p> <p>In February, NYSBA issued <a href="http://www.nysba.org/CustomTemplates/SecondaryStandard.aspx?id=70868" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a report</a> highlighting how a constitutional convention could streamline all aspects of New York’s bafflingly complex legal system, from traffic ticket processing to child support orders.</p> <p>The League of Women Voters does still hold concerns about how a convention would be implemented, but decided the potential benefits outweigh the risks.</p> <p>“We’re not saying this is the end-all and be-all, but we are going to try get all we want out of it. And there are risks, but it’s a balancing act. We asked the question: Is it worth it that we could gain more than people think might be lost? And the state League has decided yes, that it’s worth opening it up and trying to get the changes that we can’t get through the Legislature now,” said Laura Ladd Bierman, executive director of League of Women Voters New York.</p> <p>Ladd Bierman noted that some state lawmakers recently told members of the League they would be more amenable to pushing for voting reform if the public voted in favor of a convention.</p> <p>SUNY New Paltz professor Gerald Benjamin, who has been on the front lines pushing for constitutional reform for decades, said he is not surprised government reform organizations are coming around on the issue.</p> <p>“Twenty years ago they made a set of decisions, so they have 20 years of experience in observing whether they have been able to achieve the reforms necessary -- they have not -- so they rightfully understand that this is the only way they are going to make progress,” said Benjamin. “Twenty years have reinforced the observation that the Legislature will not make fundamental structural changes, and the reputation in New York governance has steadily declined.”</p> <p>Representatives from other government watchdog organizations -- including New York Public Interest Group (NYPIRG), Reinvent Albany, Common Cause, and Citizens Budget Commission -- told Gotham Gazette that they have not taken a position on the ballot question, but that the issue is being debated vigorously internally.</p> <p>“I'm not sure what we will do. Twenty years ago we thought we could play the most useful role by staying neutral and offering a balanced look at the pros and cons of a convention,” said NYPIRG’s executive director Blair Horner. “It's possible we'll be in the same place this year.”</p> <p>Bill Samuels, a businessman, con con advocate, and chair of the board of EffectiveNY, a think tank, believes the chaos surrounding President Donald Trump’s administration will also help fuel a “yes” vote in November.</p> <p>“The same activists who were around in 1967 during the civil rights-anti war movement are still around today,” he said. “When you combine that with what’s happening in Washington -- if I had to sum it up: we still have a system in Albany that’s still not reaching its goal. New York and California have emerged as the great stand-up states to Trump. We want to be excited, we want to have the best Legislature in the country, and we think we can! The best way to fight Trump is to move New York forward.”</p> <p>In the past, Governor Andrew Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, has repeatedly expressed support for a convention, suggesting a con con may be the only way to enact comprehensive campaign finance reform while Republicans who oppose a public matching system and donation limits continue to control the state Senate. While Cuomo came out in vocal support last year and attempted to insert money into the state budget for a preparatory committee, the issue was not included in his 2017 State of the State policy book nor his executive budget proposal. Cuomo’s office told Gotham Gazette the governor still favors a con con, but Cuomo has not been vocal about the issue. This governor has not set aside funds to plot out a potential convention like his father, former Governor Mario Cuomo, did ahead of the 1997 vote.</p> <p>During a recent meeting with The Daily News editorial board, Cuomo said he supports the idea of a convention, but “you have to find a way where the delegates do not wind up being the same legislators who you are trying to change the rules on. I have not heard a plan that does that." In this point, Cuomo echoed what a variety of other elected officials, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, have said about concerns regarding the delegate process.</p> <p>Meanwhile, a 40-member coalition of con con supporters called the Committee for a Constitutional Convention <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2017/01/committee-formed-to-support-constitutional-convention-vote-108991" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">has launched</a>. The group includes many prominent public figures including former chief judge Jonathan Lippman, former lieutenant governor Stan Lundine, and former state senator Seymour Lachman. They are joined by constitutional experts like Professor Benjamin and Touro Law Center dean Patty Salkin and slew of well-known attorneys like the Brennan Center’s Fritz Schwarz. Bill Samuels is a member as well.</p> <p>For Citizens Union, support for a convention has only been reinforced over the last two decades. “Twenty years ago, we felt like money in politics was a problem, that effective strong oversight of public ethics was a problem, that our court system was a problem, and the balance of power between the governor and the Legislature were a problem,” said Citizen Union executive director Dick Dadey. “Those problems have not gone away. In fact, they’ve gotten worse. Our state government is broken. Budget bills are passed in the dark of night with little time to scrutinize them, pay to play culture is thriving, and voter apathy is rising.”</p> <p>Opponents of a convention fear opening up the constitution could put at risk hard-won labor and environmental protections, among others. Those concerned about outside interests swaying the outcome of a convention also note that delegates are frequently people who are well-known in public life, often those who hold or previously held a public office, and point to a skewed delegate election process, which they say undermines the point of a “people’s convention.”</p> <p>The current system allows major political parties to influence <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/6628-the-best-delegate-election-process-for-a-new-york-constitutional-convention" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the delegate election</a>, by grouping together a “slate” of candidates on the ballot. Further, of 204 elected delegates, 189 would be chosen from New York’s 63 state Senate districts, three from each, which Democrats note are heavily gerrymandered in favor of Republican interests.</p> <p>While opposition forces, led by labor unions, have already begun to spend sizeable sums of money to encourage a “no” vote, it is unclear how<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6620-could-trump-sanders-populism-fuel-constitutional-convention-approval" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> rising populist sentiments</a> indicated in last year’s presidential election -- especially through the campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump -- may factor in.</p> <p>If the ballot measure does pass, Ladd Bierman of LWV noted, there are many questions that must be addressed in the following legislative session. Will voters be presented with a preselected slate of delegates? Will the convention be made subject to Freedom of Information Law? Where will the convention take place? The constitution says it must take place at the Capitol on April 2, but if the convention overlaps with the legislative session, there may not be sufficient office space to host the event.</p> <p>Regardless of where they stand on the ballot measure, she said, if it passes good government groups will be on the front lines pushing for a process that is as fair, transparent, and as democratic as possible.</p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/assembly_chamber_via_wikicommons.jpg" alt="assembly chamber via wikicommons" width="600" height="351" /></p> <p>The Assembly (photo: wikicommons)</p> <hr /> <p>While legislative leaders are declaring opposition to a New York State constitutional convention, government reform organizations are trending in the other direction, with some who were wary of the idea in previous years coming out in support or considering doing so.</p> <p>Leading up to the November 7 vote on whether to hold a convention, the debate is shaping up around fear of what could be taken away versus hope that the public can take a shot at democratic reform.</p> <p>Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, in a joint appearance in Albany on May 9, both warned of dangers posed by deep-pocketed interests from outside the state, who could potentially derail a “people’s convention.”</p> <p>“I understand people’s desire to put it in the hands of the people to decide. But people are also subjected to campaigns,” Heastie said at the event at the Albany Times Union’s Hearst Media Center. “I think we should be very, very careful in exposing the constitution to the whims of someone from outside of the state who can decide to spend millions of dollars to put forward their position.”</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6769-as-con-con-debate-heats-up-heastie-declares-opposition" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Heastie</a> and Flanagan, of the Bronx and Long Island, respectively, suggested that the state instead continue using piecemeal constitutional amendments to update the lengthy, outdated document. Such amendments must be passed by two consecutive legislative classes, then the public via singular ballot amendment.</p> <p>Similar sentiments have been expressed by Senator Jeff Klein, leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group of Senate Democrats that forms a ruling coalition with the GOP, and, most recently, by Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/dem-warns-convention-change-n-y-constitution-article-1.3148452" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an interview with The Daily News</a>. On the other hand, Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, an upstate Republican, has for years been an outspoken proponent of holding a convention and is the only legislative conference leader in support of a “yes” vote on this year’s November ballot question as to whether New York should hold a convention to edit or rewrite its constitution.</p> <p>The authors of the New York State Constitution included a provision that once every 20 years, the public would have the opportunity to completely overhaul and modernize the document. So, this Election Day, voters will vote on whether to hold a constitutional convention -- or a “con con,” as it is sometimes called -- and if the referendum passes, the people will then elect delegates, who would convene to potentially rewrite, or significantly propose modifications to the state constitution. Those proposals would then go before voters as a slate of changes to be voted up or down.</p> <p>While legislative leaders are expressing their fear of a con con, a growing number of government reform advocates say it’s an opportunity to enact long-sought reforms that have been stagnant in the Legislature.</p> <p>In March, for the first time in half a century, the League of Women Voters’ New York chapter <a href="http://files.constantcontact.com/37d635eb001/d805e949-b29f-4b1b-86a3-6ca4c081d62c.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">endorsed a “yes” vote</a> for the once-in-a-generation referendum, citing electoral reforms, campaign finance reform, fair legislative redistricting, and the modernization of New York’s court system as motivating factors. The League had been instrumental in the last convention, which took place in 1967, but did not produce the sweeping reforms many had hoped for, and ultimately all the proposed amendments, which were controversially presented to voters as a package deal, were voted down.</p> <p>In the 1990s, the group’s board had a policy that the League would not endorse another constitutional convention unless the essential changes were made to the delegate selection and convention process. Five years ago, LWV board members agreed to modify that policy; rather than automatically opposing a convention that did not meet those requirements, the board would reconvene and consider whether to support a convention while thoroughly weighing delegate election and transparency concerns.</p> <p>In 1997, the last time a con con was on the ballot, most good government groups chose to remain neutral on the ballot question, focussing instead on launching educational campaigns about the pros and cons of holding a convention, and potential issues to be addressed. Only Citizens Union, one of New York’s leading government reform organizations (and sister organization to Gotham Gazette’s publisher, Citizens Union Foundation), has consistently backed a constitutional convention, despite what was to many a disappointing outcome from the 1967 convention.</p> <p>Twenty years ago, as was the case during previous con con votes, there was some momentum to back a convention prior to the vote, and public opinion polls showed significant interest. But a last-minute ad campaign by labor unions and other interest groups ultimately dissuaded voters for voting “yes” on the ballot question.</p> <p>“The campaign to defeat the convention referendum has created some of the oddest political bedfellows in recent memory. The A.F.L.-C.I.O., the Conservative Party, the Sierra Club, the National Abortion Rights Action League, legislators of both parties and Change New York, the anti-tax group, were united against the measure,” wrote Richard Perez-Pena, for the New York Times, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/1997/11/05/nyregion/the-1997-elections-ballot-question-voters-reject-constitutional-convention.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">on November 5, 1997</a>, just before the con con vote that year.</p> <p>This year -- which follows a two-decade stretch that has seen dozens of elected officials leave office due to ethical or legal scandal -- there appears to be a marked shift and legislative leaders are finding themselves at odds with government reform organizations who view the convention more favorably, even those who sat out the vote in 1997.</p> <p>Citizens Union is again in suppor and the League of Women Voters is not the only government reform organization reevaluating its stance. The New York State Bar Association (NYSBA), which as part of its mission seeks to raise judicial standards and reform the legal system, will discuss the issue at its upcoming House of Delegates meeting on June 17, and consider voting on whether to take a position on the ballot measure, a spokesperson has confirmed.</p> <p>In February, NYSBA issued <a href="http://www.nysba.org/CustomTemplates/SecondaryStandard.aspx?id=70868" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a report</a> highlighting how a constitutional convention could streamline all aspects of New York’s bafflingly complex legal system, from traffic ticket processing to child support orders.</p> <p>The League of Women Voters does still hold concerns about how a convention would be implemented, but decided the potential benefits outweigh the risks.</p> <p>“We’re not saying this is the end-all and be-all, but we are going to try get all we want out of it. And there are risks, but it’s a balancing act. We asked the question: Is it worth it that we could gain more than people think might be lost? And the state League has decided yes, that it’s worth opening it up and trying to get the changes that we can’t get through the Legislature now,” said Laura Ladd Bierman, executive director of League of Women Voters New York.</p> <p>Ladd Bierman noted that some state lawmakers recently told members of the League they would be more amenable to pushing for voting reform if the public voted in favor of a convention.</p> <p>SUNY New Paltz professor Gerald Benjamin, who has been on the front lines pushing for constitutional reform for decades, said he is not surprised government reform organizations are coming around on the issue.</p> <p>“Twenty years ago they made a set of decisions, so they have 20 years of experience in observing whether they have been able to achieve the reforms necessary -- they have not -- so they rightfully understand that this is the only way they are going to make progress,” said Benjamin. “Twenty years have reinforced the observation that the Legislature will not make fundamental structural changes, and the reputation in New York governance has steadily declined.”</p> <p>Representatives from other government watchdog organizations -- including New York Public Interest Group (NYPIRG), Reinvent Albany, Common Cause, and Citizens Budget Commission -- told Gotham Gazette that they have not taken a position on the ballot question, but that the issue is being debated vigorously internally.</p> <p>“I'm not sure what we will do. Twenty years ago we thought we could play the most useful role by staying neutral and offering a balanced look at the pros and cons of a convention,” said NYPIRG’s executive director Blair Horner. “It's possible we'll be in the same place this year.”</p> <p>Bill Samuels, a businessman, con con advocate, and chair of the board of EffectiveNY, a think tank, believes the chaos surrounding President Donald Trump’s administration will also help fuel a “yes” vote in November.</p> <p>“The same activists who were around in 1967 during the civil rights-anti war movement are still around today,” he said. “When you combine that with what’s happening in Washington -- if I had to sum it up: we still have a system in Albany that’s still not reaching its goal. New York and California have emerged as the great stand-up states to Trump. We want to be excited, we want to have the best Legislature in the country, and we think we can! The best way to fight Trump is to move New York forward.”</p> <p>In the past, Governor Andrew Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, has repeatedly expressed support for a convention, suggesting a con con may be the only way to enact comprehensive campaign finance reform while Republicans who oppose a public matching system and donation limits continue to control the state Senate. While Cuomo came out in vocal support last year and attempted to insert money into the state budget for a preparatory committee, the issue was not included in his 2017 State of the State policy book nor his executive budget proposal. Cuomo’s office told Gotham Gazette the governor still favors a con con, but Cuomo has not been vocal about the issue. This governor has not set aside funds to plot out a potential convention like his father, former Governor Mario Cuomo, did ahead of the 1997 vote.</p> <p>During a recent meeting with The Daily News editorial board, Cuomo said he supports the idea of a convention, but “you have to find a way where the delegates do not wind up being the same legislators who you are trying to change the rules on. I have not heard a plan that does that." In this point, Cuomo echoed what a variety of other elected officials, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, have said about concerns regarding the delegate process.</p> <p>Meanwhile, a 40-member coalition of con con supporters called the Committee for a Constitutional Convention <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2017/01/committee-formed-to-support-constitutional-convention-vote-108991" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">has launched</a>. The group includes many prominent public figures including former chief judge Jonathan Lippman, former lieutenant governor Stan Lundine, and former state senator Seymour Lachman. They are joined by constitutional experts like Professor Benjamin and Touro Law Center dean Patty Salkin and slew of well-known attorneys like the Brennan Center’s Fritz Schwarz. Bill Samuels is a member as well.</p> <p>For Citizens Union, support for a convention has only been reinforced over the last two decades. “Twenty years ago, we felt like money in politics was a problem, that effective strong oversight of public ethics was a problem, that our court system was a problem, and the balance of power between the governor and the Legislature were a problem,” said Citizen Union executive director Dick Dadey. “Those problems have not gone away. In fact, they’ve gotten worse. Our state government is broken. Budget bills are passed in the dark of night with little time to scrutinize them, pay to play culture is thriving, and voter apathy is rising.”</p> <p>Opponents of a convention fear opening up the constitution could put at risk hard-won labor and environmental protections, among others. Those concerned about outside interests swaying the outcome of a convention also note that delegates are frequently people who are well-known in public life, often those who hold or previously held a public office, and point to a skewed delegate election process, which they say undermines the point of a “people’s convention.”</p> <p>The current system allows major political parties to influence <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/6628-the-best-delegate-election-process-for-a-new-york-constitutional-convention" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the delegate election</a>, by grouping together a “slate” of candidates on the ballot. Further, of 204 elected delegates, 189 would be chosen from New York’s 63 state Senate districts, three from each, which Democrats note are heavily gerrymandered in favor of Republican interests.</p> <p>While opposition forces, led by labor unions, have already begun to spend sizeable sums of money to encourage a “no” vote, it is unclear how<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6620-could-trump-sanders-populism-fuel-constitutional-convention-approval" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> rising populist sentiments</a> indicated in last year’s presidential election -- especially through the campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump -- may factor in.</p> <p>If the ballot measure does pass, Ladd Bierman of LWV noted, there are many questions that must be addressed in the following legislative session. Will voters be presented with a preselected slate of delegates? Will the convention be made subject to Freedom of Information Law? Where will the convention take place? The constitution says it must take place at the Capitol on April 2, but if the convention overlaps with the legislative session, there may not be sufficient office space to host the event.</p> <p>Regardless of where they stand on the ballot measure, she said, if it passes good government groups will be on the front lines pushing for a process that is as fair, transparent, and as democratic as possible.</p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
Constitutional Convention Absent from Cuomo’s 2017 Agenda 2017-01-18T05:00:00+00:00 2017-01-18T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6720:constitutional-convention-absent-from-cuomo-s-2017-agenda Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/31541182484_dccd9a03cd_z.jpg" alt="cuomo budget address cameras" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo (photo: Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Though he has expressed support in the past for a “yes” vote for a constitutional convention on this year’s ballot, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s newly revealed 2017 agenda and 2017-2018 budget provide no indication that such support continues.</p> <p>Last year, Cuomo backed a constitutional convention in his lone State of the State speech, which was combined with a budget presentation, and he included $1 million in his spending proposal for a preparatory commission. Yet, this year, the issue is notably absent from Cuomo’s $152.3 billion <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6716-cuomo-unveils-152-billion-executive-budget-plan" target="_blank">executive budget</a>, unveiled Tuesday, as well as his 149-proposal, 380-page <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6710-all-of-governor-cuomo-s-2017-state-of-the-state-proposals" target="_blank">policy book</a>, which was released last week in conjunction with an unconventional, six-speech State of the State tour.</p> <p>While a spokesperson for the governor told Gotham Gazette that Cuomo still supports a constitutional convention, he made no mention of it during any of his speeches or his budget presentation. In his 2016 speech, Cuomo said, “a constitutional convention that is properly held – with independent, non-elected official delegates – could make real change and re-engage the public.”</p> <p>On November 7, 2017 – Election Day – New Yorkers who go to the polls will have a ballot question of whether the state should hold a constitutional convention. A majority “yes” vote would lead to a convention that could streamline or significantly modify New York State’s outdated constitutional document and propose changes on issues like campaign finance, redistricting, voter registration, term limits, home rule, and much more.&nbsp;New Yorkers get to vote on whether to hold a constitutional convention once every 20 years.</p> <p>In his three-day State of the State tour, Cuomo visited cities across New York, touting a populist message aimed at the middle class, delivering his policy agenda directly “to the people” rather than to the state Legislature, as is Albany tradition. At one appearance just before the State of the State tour, he was accompanied by Senator Bernie Sanders – a progressive icon whose 2016 presidential run helped fuel a populist movement – to announce a plan for making city and state colleges tuition-free for middle class New Yorkers.</p> <p>Yet, Cuomo’s agenda contains nothing on the upcoming constitutional convention vote – just 10 months away – which is a rare opportunity for the public participate in a process that could potentially curb the power of big money in politics. <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6620-could-trump-sanders-populism-fuel-constitutional-convention-approval" target="_blank">An opportunity</a> for the people to “take their government back” at a time when state government has been plagued by corruption scandals.</p> <p>Powerful interests -- particularly environmental and labor groups who are fearful that a convention could put at risk environmental protections and public employee pensions -- are already lining up in opposition, as they did in 1997, when the Con Con question was defeated in a landslide.</p> <p>Meanwhile, legislators have little motivation to implement these reforms, since it is the status quo that effectively put them in office. The $1 million Cuomo proposed last year for a preparatory commission did not make it into the adopted fiscal 2016-2017 budget, likely because of legislative opposition from Assembly Democrats. Such a commission would make process recommendations and examine key issues to be addressed in a constitutional convention, including how delegates are selected and running the convention itself.</p> <p>Cuomo’s father, former Governor Mario Cuomo, was forced to use an executive order to create a Con Con commission and last year the governor’s office&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6283-a-post-budget-test-of-the-governor-s-commitment-to-a-constitutional-convention" target="_blank">expressed interest</a>&nbsp;in going the executive order route after the money was not included in the budget. None has been announced.</p> <p>Later last year, in response to criticism that few items in his 11-part plan to clean up Albany passed through the Legislature, Cuomo made the case for a constitutional convention in <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/20/nyregion/some-call-legislative-session-a-letdown-cuomo-sees-it-far-differently.html?_r=0&amp;mtrref=" target="_blank">a New York Times interview</a>, saying it was the only way to close the infamous LLC loophole, which allows virtually unlimited campaign donations from deep-pocketed interests.</p> <p>Republicans would never agree to such reform, Cuomo said, “because they believe it ends corporate money, and only union money would come into the system, which would help the Democrats.”</p> <p>He added, “The people are going to have to do it.”</p> <p>In this year’s State of the State and budget, the governor once again laid out an ambitious plan for government ethics reforms in areas like campaign finance, voter registration, and term limits, but his silence on Con Con may be related to his wanting to maintain the support of labor groups ahead of his 2018 reelection campaign.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Cuomo did not rule out the possibility of forming a commission through means outside of the budget.&nbsp;“We continue to support a Constitutional Convention and are examining all options and resources available to form a commission,” said Cuomo press secretary Abbey Fashouer.</p> <p>Bill Samuels, the founder of government reform organization EffectiveNY and a vocal proponent of a Con Con who supported the governor because of his stance on the issue, said he remains hopeful that the governor would identify funds to convene a commission.</p> <p>“If he is serious about major constitutional change, it's only going to happen through a constitutional convention,” Samuels said. “He clearly has not made a statement ‘I've changed my mind.’ I don't think he’s changed his mind, but he may have changed how active he wants to be,” he added, with a nod toward Cuomo’s looming reelection year.</p> <p>A major challenge for nonprofits and interest groups pushing for a convention is getting the word out to the public and educating New Yorkers about the issues at stake. <a href="https://www.siena.edu/news-events/article/by-two-to-one-voters-say-new-ethics-reform-legislation-will-not-reduce-corr" target="_blank">Recent polls show</a> that nearly two-thirds of New Yorkers have heard little or nothing about the referendum, though polls also show that the idea does resonate with people. Constitutional convention advocates beyond Samuels expressed dismay over the governor's silence, saying he missed a significant opportunity to engage and educate the public on the upcoming referendum.</p> <p>“New Yorkers have three chances in a lifetime to get serious attention to the operational structure of their state government and now we have a clear crisis in confidence,” said Gerard Benjamin, political scientist, SUNY New Paltz professor, and longtime advocate for a constitutional convention. “The governor has joined the state Legislature in its efforts to deny the public the necessary info to make the choice.”</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/31541182484_dccd9a03cd_z.jpg" alt="cuomo budget address cameras" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo (photo: Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Though he has expressed support in the past for a “yes” vote for a constitutional convention on this year’s ballot, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s newly revealed 2017 agenda and 2017-2018 budget provide no indication that such support continues.</p> <p>Last year, Cuomo backed a constitutional convention in his lone State of the State speech, which was combined with a budget presentation, and he included $1 million in his spending proposal for a preparatory commission. Yet, this year, the issue is notably absent from Cuomo’s $152.3 billion <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6716-cuomo-unveils-152-billion-executive-budget-plan" target="_blank">executive budget</a>, unveiled Tuesday, as well as his 149-proposal, 380-page <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6710-all-of-governor-cuomo-s-2017-state-of-the-state-proposals" target="_blank">policy book</a>, which was released last week in conjunction with an unconventional, six-speech State of the State tour.</p> <p>While a spokesperson for the governor told Gotham Gazette that Cuomo still supports a constitutional convention, he made no mention of it during any of his speeches or his budget presentation. In his 2016 speech, Cuomo said, “a constitutional convention that is properly held – with independent, non-elected official delegates – could make real change and re-engage the public.”</p> <p>On November 7, 2017 – Election Day – New Yorkers who go to the polls will have a ballot question of whether the state should hold a constitutional convention. A majority “yes” vote would lead to a convention that could streamline or significantly modify New York State’s outdated constitutional document and propose changes on issues like campaign finance, redistricting, voter registration, term limits, home rule, and much more.&nbsp;New Yorkers get to vote on whether to hold a constitutional convention once every 20 years.</p> <p>In his three-day State of the State tour, Cuomo visited cities across New York, touting a populist message aimed at the middle class, delivering his policy agenda directly “to the people” rather than to the state Legislature, as is Albany tradition. At one appearance just before the State of the State tour, he was accompanied by Senator Bernie Sanders – a progressive icon whose 2016 presidential run helped fuel a populist movement – to announce a plan for making city and state colleges tuition-free for middle class New Yorkers.</p> <p>Yet, Cuomo’s agenda contains nothing on the upcoming constitutional convention vote – just 10 months away – which is a rare opportunity for the public participate in a process that could potentially curb the power of big money in politics. <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6620-could-trump-sanders-populism-fuel-constitutional-convention-approval" target="_blank">An opportunity</a> for the people to “take their government back” at a time when state government has been plagued by corruption scandals.</p> <p>Powerful interests -- particularly environmental and labor groups who are fearful that a convention could put at risk environmental protections and public employee pensions -- are already lining up in opposition, as they did in 1997, when the Con Con question was defeated in a landslide.</p> <p>Meanwhile, legislators have little motivation to implement these reforms, since it is the status quo that effectively put them in office. The $1 million Cuomo proposed last year for a preparatory commission did not make it into the adopted fiscal 2016-2017 budget, likely because of legislative opposition from Assembly Democrats. Such a commission would make process recommendations and examine key issues to be addressed in a constitutional convention, including how delegates are selected and running the convention itself.</p> <p>Cuomo’s father, former Governor Mario Cuomo, was forced to use an executive order to create a Con Con commission and last year the governor’s office&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6283-a-post-budget-test-of-the-governor-s-commitment-to-a-constitutional-convention" target="_blank">expressed interest</a>&nbsp;in going the executive order route after the money was not included in the budget. None has been announced.</p> <p>Later last year, in response to criticism that few items in his 11-part plan to clean up Albany passed through the Legislature, Cuomo made the case for a constitutional convention in <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/20/nyregion/some-call-legislative-session-a-letdown-cuomo-sees-it-far-differently.html?_r=0&amp;mtrref=" target="_blank">a New York Times interview</a>, saying it was the only way to close the infamous LLC loophole, which allows virtually unlimited campaign donations from deep-pocketed interests.</p> <p>Republicans would never agree to such reform, Cuomo said, “because they believe it ends corporate money, and only union money would come into the system, which would help the Democrats.”</p> <p>He added, “The people are going to have to do it.”</p> <p>In this year’s State of the State and budget, the governor once again laid out an ambitious plan for government ethics reforms in areas like campaign finance, voter registration, and term limits, but his silence on Con Con may be related to his wanting to maintain the support of labor groups ahead of his 2018 reelection campaign.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Cuomo did not rule out the possibility of forming a commission through means outside of the budget.&nbsp;“We continue to support a Constitutional Convention and are examining all options and resources available to form a commission,” said Cuomo press secretary Abbey Fashouer.</p> <p>Bill Samuels, the founder of government reform organization EffectiveNY and a vocal proponent of a Con Con who supported the governor because of his stance on the issue, said he remains hopeful that the governor would identify funds to convene a commission.</p> <p>“If he is serious about major constitutional change, it's only going to happen through a constitutional convention,” Samuels said. “He clearly has not made a statement ‘I've changed my mind.’ I don't think he’s changed his mind, but he may have changed how active he wants to be,” he added, with a nod toward Cuomo’s looming reelection year.</p> <p>A major challenge for nonprofits and interest groups pushing for a convention is getting the word out to the public and educating New Yorkers about the issues at stake. <a href="https://www.siena.edu/news-events/article/by-two-to-one-voters-say-new-ethics-reform-legislation-will-not-reduce-corr" target="_blank">Recent polls show</a> that nearly two-thirds of New Yorkers have heard little or nothing about the referendum, though polls also show that the idea does resonate with people. Constitutional convention advocates beyond Samuels expressed dismay over the governor's silence, saying he missed a significant opportunity to engage and educate the public on the upcoming referendum.</p> <p>“New Yorkers have three chances in a lifetime to get serious attention to the operational structure of their state government and now we have a clear crisis in confidence,” said Gerard Benjamin, political scientist, SUNY New Paltz professor, and longtime advocate for a constitutional convention. “The governor has joined the state Legislature in its efforts to deny the public the necessary info to make the choice.”</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
Calling for Efficiency, Cuomo Pushes Latest Municipal Consolidation Contest 2016-12-19T05:00:00+00:00 2016-12-19T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6677:calling-for-efficiency-cuomo-pushes-latest-municipal-consolidation-contest Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/25367847889_f7e4387e7b_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo red screen podium " width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo (photo: Governor's Office on flickr)</p> <hr /> <p>Since his time as attorney general, Governor Andrew Cuomo has painted a picture of New York as a state cluttered by redundant and inefficient municipalities, attributing the state’s notoriously high property taxes in large part to a bureaucratic web of overlapping government services.</p> <p>Cuomo’s latest attempt to detangle the web is an incentivized competition challenging two or more local governments to come up with a bold consolidation plan as a way to cut spending, increase efficiency, and lower property taxes. This could mean anything from localities deciding to share park maintenance services or fire departments, for example, or a plan to dissolve a smaller government into a larger one.</p> <p>The program piggybacks on a series of tax caps and rebate programs Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, has initiated since taking office. The prize is $20 million, part of $70 million earmarked for improving government efficiency in the $155.6 billion 2016-2017 state budget.</p> <p>In theory, streamlining government to ease taxpayers’ burden is a good idea, but it is essential to identify not just any municipal consolidation, but the types most likely to produce taxpayer savings. There is also some debate as to whether, and to what extent, municipal consolidation addresses the underlying causes of the New York’s property tax problem. Furthermore, in more affluent localities, residents often say they prefer to pay higher taxes in exchange for the personal touch of smaller government agencies.</p> <p>In 2010, when Cuomo was running for governor, property taxes were rising at an unsustainable average rate of 5.7 percent per year, with homeowners in 33 of New York’s 62 counties facing a property tax burden surpassing the national median. Initiatives like the new municipal consolidation challenge have been successful at curbing the upward trend, according to Cuomo’s office.</p> <p>“Over the past five years, Governor Cuomo has restored fiscal responsibility to the state – reducing costs, cutting red tape and delivering relief for New York taxpayers,” said Cuomo spokesperson Abbey Fashouer. “The Municipal Consolidation Competition marks another step forward in these efforts, incentivizing local governments to find innovative ways to share services, find efficiencies and ensure a stronger, more affordable Empire State for all.”</p> <p>This latest contest supplements Cuomo’s 2014 property tax “freeze,” which is in reality a credit that incentivizes municipalities to find ways to cut costs and stay within the state’s cap of 2 percent annual increase in property taxes, and is projected to save property taxpayers more than $1.3 billion over three years. Cuomo has also instituted an informal 2 percent cap on annual increases in overall state spending.</p> <p>The tax “cap,” which in 2017 enters its fourth consecutive year, seeks to prevent municipal and school tax levies from increasing beyond 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. This year, at .68 percent, the increase limit -- which applies to all localities except New York City -- is at a record low, and while this is in one way good news for homeowners, strapped municipalities are bound to feel the strain, according to state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.</p> <p>"In what is becoming the norm, New York’s local governments must cope with extremely limited growth for property taxes to stay within the tax cap,” DiNapoli said in <a href="http://www.osc.state.ny.us/press/releases/july16/071816.htm" target="_blank">his announcement</a> of this year’s tax cap. “Low inflation has positive effects for consumers, but it also reflects an uncertain economic environment. Local officials have faced growing fixed costs and limited budget options for years, but 2017 will necessitate even tougher financial choices.”</p> <p>In response, a growing number of localities are voting to override the tax cap, with 26 percent opting out <a href="http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/local/2016/01/22/new-york-state-tax-cap-limit-local-governments/79194468/" target="_blank">in 2016</a>. Cuomo’s new contest, which targets the state’s 13 largest municipalities outside of New York City -- only cities, towns and villages with populations of at least 50,000 (according to 2010 U.S. Census data) may apply as the lead applicant -- may help mitigate that trend for the coming year.</p> <p>One such municipality is the City of New Rochelle, which will be forced to break through the tax cap next year to invest in the city’s infrastructure, according City Manager Charles "Chuck" Strome III.</p> <p>The city’s chief administrative officer, appointed by the New Rochelle City Council, Strome explained that the city has been searching for ways to share services with neighboring municipalities since before Cuomo took office, partnering with neighboring suburbs of Pelham Manor, Mamaroneck and Larchmont on services like street cleaning, snow removal, and sanitation.</p> <p>“I’m not really moved by competing for prizes. For me, that’s just a show,” Strome said in an interview. “I think the state’s policies recently have been very detrimental to municipalities. We've been doing things in New Rochelle long before there was a prize at the end of the rainbow.”</p> <p>Rochester, the state’s third largest outside of New York City, sees itself as a leader in the region on municipal consolidation, forming cooperative agreements with the Monroe County and neighboring municipalities on things like 9-1-1 dispatch services, waste management systems, telecommunication providers, and more. Officials there were more amenable to Cuomo’s consolidation contest, but said that the most “low-hanging fruit” has already been identified and implemented.</p> <p>“Given that we've done a lot of this already, we're a little challenged to find additional opportunities, but we are open to it,” said Chris Wagner, budget director for the City of Rochester.</p> <p>Cuomo often focuses on the number of municipalities in New York, suggesting overlapping and redundant governments are a main driver of rising property taxes. “The cost, the waste, the inefficiency of our 10,500 local governments is still this state’s financial albatross and that is what is driving up the cost,” Cuomo said during his 2016 State of the State address, on January 14.</p> <p>While it is true that on average New Yorkers continue to pay some of the largest property tax bills in the country -- 13 percent of the average household income -- there is a lively debate among social theorists about whether fewer, and thus larger, governmental bodies results in more efficiency and lower property tax bills. And, the actual number of “local governments” is up for debate.</p> <p>Some dispute the 10,500 figure, saying it includes “special tax districts” -- in-town sectioning created out of specific residential needs that are brought on by suburban growth -- which often amounts to paperwork rather than additional government expenditure. (<a href="https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?src=CF" target="_blank">The 2012 U.S. Census of Governments</a> places the number of cities, towns, and villages in New York State at 3,453 -- which is fewer than the national average for states across the country.)</p> <p>Since Cuomo took office, the number of government service providers has been reduced, though savings produced have been relatively small. For example, since 2011, 18 New York water districts consolidated into five with a projected annual savings of $1.2 million; 72 sewer/wastewater districts consolidated into three, with a projected savings of $522,000; and six fire and fire protection districts consolidated into two fire districts, with a projected annual savings of $959,570; all according to Cuomo’s office.</p> <p>Full consolidation of services or government entities tends to elicit resistance, so functional consolidation is often the most politically expedient solution for overlapping services.</p> <p>Functional consolidation, in which similar municipal agencies both remain in existence, but cooperate on whether to perform the same or distinct functions for a larger geographic area, has been shown to save money and improve quality of life. Either one government entity pays the other for services or one agency performs a specific function and the other agency takes on a different function in exchange.</p> <p>These partnerships are typically evaluated on a case-by-case basis. In 2012, when the Town of Brighton voted to dissolve its understaffed West Brighton fire protection district and contract with the Rochester Fire Department instead, it resulted in savings for both taxpayers in Rochester and Brighton, according to Wagner, the Rochester budget director. “From our experience, it not only helps on the property tax side of things, but it helps to improve planning and response time to a situation,” Wagner said.</p> <p>Meanwhile, several years ago, a plan for the City of Rochester to combine water supply systems with Monroe County was nixed when it was determined that it would not result in savings, according to Wagner.</p> <p>E.J. McMahon, president of the Empire Center, a conservative think tank, notes that smaller towns and villages often prefer to see their tax dollars used for a personal, responsive touch from police, fire, and sanitation agencies. However, McMahon says, these more localized services are not the primary driver of New York’s property tax problem. McMahon points a finger instead at state-mandated Medicaid, pension, and education costs.</p> <p>“Municipal consolidation is not a panacea and it’s kind of a dodge,” McMahon said. “[Cuomo’s] premise is we have too many local governments, and that’s why we have high local taxes, and that’s essentially untrue.”</p> <p>A better way to slash property taxes, he says, would be to reform New York’s 30-year-old Triborough Amendment, which requires public employers to maintain contractual agreements, including automatic pay increases, for unionized employees after their collective bargaining agreement expires -- a policy that adds $300 million a year to school budgets across the state.</p> <p>The governor’s administration says it has taken steps to reduce the number of unfunded mandates -- a term used to describe burdensome state requirements that do not come with requisite funding -- establishing a Mandate Relief Council <a href="http://www.governor.ny.gov/sites/governor.ny.gov/files/archive/assets/documents/2013Annual%20Report.pdf" target="_blank">in December 2013</a>. But while rising local school costs are offset by huge amounts of state funding -- <a href="https://mcdonaldhopkins.com/Insights/Blog/Tax-and-Benefits-Challenges/2016/05/04/New-York-Governor-signs-2016-2017-budget-bill" target="_blank">in the 2016-2017 budget</a>, the state allocated $24.8 billion for education aid, up 6.5 percent from the prior year -- and the state has tried to to reel in pension growth, municipalities say they are forced to make painful cuts and delay important capital projects to meet the tax cap year after year.</p> <p>Strome, the city manager, noted that municipal expenses account for only 18 percent of property tax bills in New Rochelle. The bulk of it comes from school and medicaid expenses. “Most people, if they knew the facts, they'd be happy to have multiple trash pickups and police and fire services and acres and acres of parks for $3,000 a year,” he said. “The state has dumped millions of dollars in increased school aid, but municipalities have gotten zero. In my opinion, until the state seriously looks at how it deals with education, we’d never address the property tax problem.”</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/nassau_special_service_districts_map.jpg" alt="nassau special service districts map" width="300" height="389" style="margin: 0px 0px 0px 8px; float: right;" />In other areas, like Nassau County, where residents pay some of the highest property taxes in the country (the average annual property tax bill topped $9,000 in 2013, according to <a href="http://www.zillow.com/blog/property-taxes-2015-173854/" target="_blank">a Zillow report</a>), the imbalance is starker. The Town of Hempstead made several difficult cuts this year, including laying off 36 employees, but only 9 cents per tax dollar homeowners pay goes toward municipal programs and services (incorporated villages pay about 2 cents per tax dollar to the township). More that 60 percent of Hempstead taxes go to schools and libraries, another 16 percent goes the county tax -- which includes Medicaid -- and another 5 percent goes toward special districts (which Cuomo counts among the New York’s 10,500 municipalities). (see map, <a href="http://www.longislandindexmaps.org/?zoom=1&amp;x=1264935.42&amp;y=229421.25&amp;tab=tabServiceProviders&amp;satellite=false&amp;landuse=false&amp;landuseopacity=0.8&amp;mainlayers=Sewer_boundary%2CSchool_boundary_basemap%2CPolice_boundary%2CParks_boundary%2CFire_boundary%2CWater_boundary%2CLibrary_boundary%2CGarbage_boundary%2CParking_boundary%2CAmbulance_boundary%2CTownsCities&amp;labellayers=Water_boundary%2CSewer_boundary%2CSchool_boundary_basemap%2CPolice_boundary%2CParks_boundary%2CFire_boundary%2CLibrary_boundary%2CGarbage_boundary%2CAmbulance_boundary%2CTownsCities&amp;serviceproviderlayers=" target="_blank">via the Long Island Index</a>)</p> <p>Cuomo’s office disputes the charge that the governor has not addressed education and Medicaid costs. In addition to flooding cities with education aid, the administration notes both the governor’s <a href="https://www.health.ny.gov/health_care/medicaid/redesign/" target="_blank">Medicaid reform efforts</a> have saved taxpayers an estimated $34 billion over the last five years and the Global Medicaid Cap, which eliminated any growth of Medicaid expenses for counties (meaning any amount of spending over counties’ fixed dollar amount is picked up by the state).</p> <p>“Governor Cuomo has implemented a number of targeted reforms to deliver relief for New York taxpayers – and they are working,” said Fashouer, a Cuomo spokesperson. “Today, taxes are at their lowest level in decades, we’ve capped [growth of] property taxes at 2 percent, we’re making record investments in education while delivering quality healthcare more effectively and efficiently than ever before.”</p> <p>The most ambitious type of consolidation is full-scale city-county merger, in which a city and the surrounding county combine to create a metropolitan form of government, or a “super” county. Over the last 30 years, major Upstate cities have faced rising poverty rates and an increased dependence on state aid to balance their budgets. Social theorists <a href="https://www.cgr.org/consensuscny/docs/The_Future_of_Government_Consolidation_in_Upstate_NY.pdf" target="_blank">say that</a> in addition to consolidating duplicate services, city-state consolidation can curb urban sprawl and compel suburbanites to contribute more significantly to services provided by the city, which are utilized by everyone.</p> <p>Cuomo’s municipal consolidation contest coincides with the ongoing effort to merge the City of Syracuse and Onondaga County, called Consensus. The region was granted $500 million in a similar 2015 state-funded contest, a portion of which Cuomo said was contingent on Syracuse following through on its ambitious consolidation plan.</p> <p>Studies on whether larger municipalities are actually more efficient have produced mixed findings. A study done 10 years after the 1998 amalgamation of Toronto, for example, indicates that larger governments become more less responsive and more sluggish, resulting in increased costs.</p> <p>Not that taxpayer savings should be the primary, or only, motivation for large-scale municipal consolidation.</p> <p>In the case of the Syracuse merger, more equitable distribution of better quality services across the the county is a major focus. One of the most influential advocates for this type of merger is David Rusk, the former mayor of Albuquerque, New Mexico, who long-argued for what he terms an “elastic city” — one free of geographic limitations — which could help rectify economic, social and racial inequities, he says, and encourage greater political participation county-wide. However, in places like Syracuse, people of color who live in the city fear they’ll lose political influence with a larger unified government, while suburbanites feel that <a href="https://www.cgr.org/consensuscny/docs/The_Future_of_Government_Consolidation_in_Upstate_NY.pdf" target="_blank">the consolidation</a> could dilute their quality of service.</p> <p>City-county mergers are notoriously difficult to pull off. While there has been some success in other parts of the country, all recent merger attempts in New York, like a proposed Buffalo-Erie merger in the early 2000s, have failed. The state’s only major regional consolidation was in 1898, when the City of New York was formed out of five boroughs, and the Syracuse-area Consensus plan is seen as an experiment of whether a consolidation of this scale can work again.</p> <p>Cuomo has enthusiastically supported the Syracuse merger, but <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2016/11/the-great-er-syracuse-experiment-106762" target="_blank">as Politico reported</a>, the plan is at risk of being derailed by long-standing differences among Cuomo, Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney, and Syracuse’s Mayor Stephanie Miner, and there are still more questions than answers about how it would meet the at times conflicting interests of city residents and suburbanites.</p> <p>Occasionally, villages vote to dissolve themselves into neighboring municipalities -- since 1921, 47 village governments in New York have dissolved, 10 of them in the past five years, according to a recent Empire Center report (see graph below). As attorney general, Cuomo pushed through a bill easing the village dissolution process and sweetening the pot for eligible villages with a $58,006 “Community Empowerment Tax Credit” when the dissolution is approved.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/village-dissolutions-nys.jpg" alt="village dissolutions nys" width="450" height="242" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" /></p> <p>In these instances, however, the tax savings per household are usually small, and more often than not, villagers resist consolidation, saying they’d prefer to pay slightly higher taxes to retain their community identity and personal touch from local government.</p> <p>An example of this is the Village of Cayuga Heights (the Ithaca suburb where this reporter grew up), which has its own mayor and government and where residents consistently vote against joining its fire and police services with neighboring municipalities. “I think if we were to say, ‘Oh, let’s just join up with the Village of Lansing,’ we’d be bigger than the city of Ithaca, but we’d lose a lot too,” said Joan Mangione, the village clerk and treasurer. “When our residents come in to pay taxes, they want to feel ‘this is my best tax dollar at work.’”</p> <p>Despite an attachment to these extra amenities, Cayuga Heights officials tout the village’s extensive record of looking for consolidation opportunities that make sense: it is a partner in Bolton Point, a water supply plant built in 1976 that serves five municipalities and it is represented in Tompkins County Council of Governments (TCCOG), one of two county committees in the state that meet regularly to discuss shared services, including a progressive <a href="http://www.tompkinscountyny.gov/tccog/health-consortium" target="_blank">healthcare consortium</a> that has saved taxpayers millions of dollars.</p> <p>Other examples of residents electing to pay a higher price tag for uniquely responsive municipal services <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/1996/10/27/nyregion/where-the-rich-live-and-live-well.html" target="_blank">can be found</a> in many towns, villages and hamlets of Westchester County, where residents consistently pay the highest property taxes in the nation (an average of $13,842 per household in 2013, <a href="http://www.zillow.com/blog/property-taxes-2015-173854/" target="_blank">according to Zillow</a>). The bloated bill is <a href="http://www.westchestermagazine.com/Westchester-Magazine/June-2010/Why-Are-Our-Taxes-So-High/" target="_blank">often justified</a> by the county’s exemplary schools -- where between $20,000 and $50,000 a year is spent on each pupil --- and a small town approach from police, fire, and sanitation workers.</p> <p>Political scientist and SUNY New Paltz professor Gerald Benjamin, a proponent of municipal consolidation, says that these New York municipalities should be more open to compromise.</p> <p>“Look, we want low costs, we want our services, we have to have a hierarchy of values, and we want democracy -- which we are not always getting, because it’s too complex,” Benjamin said. “If we want all those things, they run into each other; they are not all aligned. Sometimes you are presented a range of desserts at Thanksgiving — but if you eat them all, you are going to get fat.”</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/25367847889_f7e4387e7b_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo red screen podium " width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo (photo: Governor's Office on flickr)</p> <hr /> <p>Since his time as attorney general, Governor Andrew Cuomo has painted a picture of New York as a state cluttered by redundant and inefficient municipalities, attributing the state’s notoriously high property taxes in large part to a bureaucratic web of overlapping government services.</p> <p>Cuomo’s latest attempt to detangle the web is an incentivized competition challenging two or more local governments to come up with a bold consolidation plan as a way to cut spending, increase efficiency, and lower property taxes. This could mean anything from localities deciding to share park maintenance services or fire departments, for example, or a plan to dissolve a smaller government into a larger one.</p> <p>The program piggybacks on a series of tax caps and rebate programs Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, has initiated since taking office. The prize is $20 million, part of $70 million earmarked for improving government efficiency in the $155.6 billion 2016-2017 state budget.</p> <p>In theory, streamlining government to ease taxpayers’ burden is a good idea, but it is essential to identify not just any municipal consolidation, but the types most likely to produce taxpayer savings. There is also some debate as to whether, and to what extent, municipal consolidation addresses the underlying causes of the New York’s property tax problem. Furthermore, in more affluent localities, residents often say they prefer to pay higher taxes in exchange for the personal touch of smaller government agencies.</p> <p>In 2010, when Cuomo was running for governor, property taxes were rising at an unsustainable average rate of 5.7 percent per year, with homeowners in 33 of New York’s 62 counties facing a property tax burden surpassing the national median. Initiatives like the new municipal consolidation challenge have been successful at curbing the upward trend, according to Cuomo’s office.</p> <p>“Over the past five years, Governor Cuomo has restored fiscal responsibility to the state – reducing costs, cutting red tape and delivering relief for New York taxpayers,” said Cuomo spokesperson Abbey Fashouer. “The Municipal Consolidation Competition marks another step forward in these efforts, incentivizing local governments to find innovative ways to share services, find efficiencies and ensure a stronger, more affordable Empire State for all.”</p> <p>This latest contest supplements Cuomo’s 2014 property tax “freeze,” which is in reality a credit that incentivizes municipalities to find ways to cut costs and stay within the state’s cap of 2 percent annual increase in property taxes, and is projected to save property taxpayers more than $1.3 billion over three years. Cuomo has also instituted an informal 2 percent cap on annual increases in overall state spending.</p> <p>The tax “cap,” which in 2017 enters its fourth consecutive year, seeks to prevent municipal and school tax levies from increasing beyond 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. This year, at .68 percent, the increase limit -- which applies to all localities except New York City -- is at a record low, and while this is in one way good news for homeowners, strapped municipalities are bound to feel the strain, according to state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.</p> <p>"In what is becoming the norm, New York’s local governments must cope with extremely limited growth for property taxes to stay within the tax cap,” DiNapoli said in <a href="http://www.osc.state.ny.us/press/releases/july16/071816.htm" target="_blank">his announcement</a> of this year’s tax cap. “Low inflation has positive effects for consumers, but it also reflects an uncertain economic environment. Local officials have faced growing fixed costs and limited budget options for years, but 2017 will necessitate even tougher financial choices.”</p> <p>In response, a growing number of localities are voting to override the tax cap, with 26 percent opting out <a href="http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/local/2016/01/22/new-york-state-tax-cap-limit-local-governments/79194468/" target="_blank">in 2016</a>. Cuomo’s new contest, which targets the state’s 13 largest municipalities outside of New York City -- only cities, towns and villages with populations of at least 50,000 (according to 2010 U.S. Census data) may apply as the lead applicant -- may help mitigate that trend for the coming year.</p> <p>One such municipality is the City of New Rochelle, which will be forced to break through the tax cap next year to invest in the city’s infrastructure, according City Manager Charles "Chuck" Strome III.</p> <p>The city’s chief administrative officer, appointed by the New Rochelle City Council, Strome explained that the city has been searching for ways to share services with neighboring municipalities since before Cuomo took office, partnering with neighboring suburbs of Pelham Manor, Mamaroneck and Larchmont on services like street cleaning, snow removal, and sanitation.</p> <p>“I’m not really moved by competing for prizes. For me, that’s just a show,” Strome said in an interview. “I think the state’s policies recently have been very detrimental to municipalities. We've been doing things in New Rochelle long before there was a prize at the end of the rainbow.”</p> <p>Rochester, the state’s third largest outside of New York City, sees itself as a leader in the region on municipal consolidation, forming cooperative agreements with the Monroe County and neighboring municipalities on things like 9-1-1 dispatch services, waste management systems, telecommunication providers, and more. Officials there were more amenable to Cuomo’s consolidation contest, but said that the most “low-hanging fruit” has already been identified and implemented.</p> <p>“Given that we've done a lot of this already, we're a little challenged to find additional opportunities, but we are open to it,” said Chris Wagner, budget director for the City of Rochester.</p> <p>Cuomo often focuses on the number of municipalities in New York, suggesting overlapping and redundant governments are a main driver of rising property taxes. “The cost, the waste, the inefficiency of our 10,500 local governments is still this state’s financial albatross and that is what is driving up the cost,” Cuomo said during his 2016 State of the State address, on January 14.</p> <p>While it is true that on average New Yorkers continue to pay some of the largest property tax bills in the country -- 13 percent of the average household income -- there is a lively debate among social theorists about whether fewer, and thus larger, governmental bodies results in more efficiency and lower property tax bills. And, the actual number of “local governments” is up for debate.</p> <p>Some dispute the 10,500 figure, saying it includes “special tax districts” -- in-town sectioning created out of specific residential needs that are brought on by suburban growth -- which often amounts to paperwork rather than additional government expenditure. (<a href="https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?src=CF" target="_blank">The 2012 U.S. Census of Governments</a> places the number of cities, towns, and villages in New York State at 3,453 -- which is fewer than the national average for states across the country.)</p> <p>Since Cuomo took office, the number of government service providers has been reduced, though savings produced have been relatively small. For example, since 2011, 18 New York water districts consolidated into five with a projected annual savings of $1.2 million; 72 sewer/wastewater districts consolidated into three, with a projected savings of $522,000; and six fire and fire protection districts consolidated into two fire districts, with a projected annual savings of $959,570; all according to Cuomo’s office.</p> <p>Full consolidation of services or government entities tends to elicit resistance, so functional consolidation is often the most politically expedient solution for overlapping services.</p> <p>Functional consolidation, in which similar municipal agencies both remain in existence, but cooperate on whether to perform the same or distinct functions for a larger geographic area, has been shown to save money and improve quality of life. Either one government entity pays the other for services or one agency performs a specific function and the other agency takes on a different function in exchange.</p> <p>These partnerships are typically evaluated on a case-by-case basis. In 2012, when the Town of Brighton voted to dissolve its understaffed West Brighton fire protection district and contract with the Rochester Fire Department instead, it resulted in savings for both taxpayers in Rochester and Brighton, according to Wagner, the Rochester budget director. “From our experience, it not only helps on the property tax side of things, but it helps to improve planning and response time to a situation,” Wagner said.</p> <p>Meanwhile, several years ago, a plan for the City of Rochester to combine water supply systems with Monroe County was nixed when it was determined that it would not result in savings, according to Wagner.</p> <p>E.J. McMahon, president of the Empire Center, a conservative think tank, notes that smaller towns and villages often prefer to see their tax dollars used for a personal, responsive touch from police, fire, and sanitation agencies. However, McMahon says, these more localized services are not the primary driver of New York’s property tax problem. McMahon points a finger instead at state-mandated Medicaid, pension, and education costs.</p> <p>“Municipal consolidation is not a panacea and it’s kind of a dodge,” McMahon said. “[Cuomo’s] premise is we have too many local governments, and that’s why we have high local taxes, and that’s essentially untrue.”</p> <p>A better way to slash property taxes, he says, would be to reform New York’s 30-year-old Triborough Amendment, which requires public employers to maintain contractual agreements, including automatic pay increases, for unionized employees after their collective bargaining agreement expires -- a policy that adds $300 million a year to school budgets across the state.</p> <p>The governor’s administration says it has taken steps to reduce the number of unfunded mandates -- a term used to describe burdensome state requirements that do not come with requisite funding -- establishing a Mandate Relief Council <a href="http://www.governor.ny.gov/sites/governor.ny.gov/files/archive/assets/documents/2013Annual%20Report.pdf" target="_blank">in December 2013</a>. But while rising local school costs are offset by huge amounts of state funding -- <a href="https://mcdonaldhopkins.com/Insights/Blog/Tax-and-Benefits-Challenges/2016/05/04/New-York-Governor-signs-2016-2017-budget-bill" target="_blank">in the 2016-2017 budget</a>, the state allocated $24.8 billion for education aid, up 6.5 percent from the prior year -- and the state has tried to to reel in pension growth, municipalities say they are forced to make painful cuts and delay important capital projects to meet the tax cap year after year.</p> <p>Strome, the city manager, noted that municipal expenses account for only 18 percent of property tax bills in New Rochelle. The bulk of it comes from school and medicaid expenses. “Most people, if they knew the facts, they'd be happy to have multiple trash pickups and police and fire services and acres and acres of parks for $3,000 a year,” he said. “The state has dumped millions of dollars in increased school aid, but municipalities have gotten zero. In my opinion, until the state seriously looks at how it deals with education, we’d never address the property tax problem.”</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/nassau_special_service_districts_map.jpg" alt="nassau special service districts map" width="300" height="389" style="margin: 0px 0px 0px 8px; float: right;" />In other areas, like Nassau County, where residents pay some of the highest property taxes in the country (the average annual property tax bill topped $9,000 in 2013, according to <a href="http://www.zillow.com/blog/property-taxes-2015-173854/" target="_blank">a Zillow report</a>), the imbalance is starker. The Town of Hempstead made several difficult cuts this year, including laying off 36 employees, but only 9 cents per tax dollar homeowners pay goes toward municipal programs and services (incorporated villages pay about 2 cents per tax dollar to the township). More that 60 percent of Hempstead taxes go to schools and libraries, another 16 percent goes the county tax -- which includes Medicaid -- and another 5 percent goes toward special districts (which Cuomo counts among the New York’s 10,500 municipalities). (see map, <a href="http://www.longislandindexmaps.org/?zoom=1&amp;x=1264935.42&amp;y=229421.25&amp;tab=tabServiceProviders&amp;satellite=false&amp;landuse=false&amp;landuseopacity=0.8&amp;mainlayers=Sewer_boundary%2CSchool_boundary_basemap%2CPolice_boundary%2CParks_boundary%2CFire_boundary%2CWater_boundary%2CLibrary_boundary%2CGarbage_boundary%2CParking_boundary%2CAmbulance_boundary%2CTownsCities&amp;labellayers=Water_boundary%2CSewer_boundary%2CSchool_boundary_basemap%2CPolice_boundary%2CParks_boundary%2CFire_boundary%2CLibrary_boundary%2CGarbage_boundary%2CAmbulance_boundary%2CTownsCities&amp;serviceproviderlayers=" target="_blank">via the Long Island Index</a>)</p> <p>Cuomo’s office disputes the charge that the governor has not addressed education and Medicaid costs. In addition to flooding cities with education aid, the administration notes both the governor’s <a href="https://www.health.ny.gov/health_care/medicaid/redesign/" target="_blank">Medicaid reform efforts</a> have saved taxpayers an estimated $34 billion over the last five years and the Global Medicaid Cap, which eliminated any growth of Medicaid expenses for counties (meaning any amount of spending over counties’ fixed dollar amount is picked up by the state).</p> <p>“Governor Cuomo has implemented a number of targeted reforms to deliver relief for New York taxpayers – and they are working,” said Fashouer, a Cuomo spokesperson. “Today, taxes are at their lowest level in decades, we’ve capped [growth of] property taxes at 2 percent, we’re making record investments in education while delivering quality healthcare more effectively and efficiently than ever before.”</p> <p>The most ambitious type of consolidation is full-scale city-county merger, in which a city and the surrounding county combine to create a metropolitan form of government, or a “super” county. Over the last 30 years, major Upstate cities have faced rising poverty rates and an increased dependence on state aid to balance their budgets. Social theorists <a href="https://www.cgr.org/consensuscny/docs/The_Future_of_Government_Consolidation_in_Upstate_NY.pdf" target="_blank">say that</a> in addition to consolidating duplicate services, city-state consolidation can curb urban sprawl and compel suburbanites to contribute more significantly to services provided by the city, which are utilized by everyone.</p> <p>Cuomo’s municipal consolidation contest coincides with the ongoing effort to merge the City of Syracuse and Onondaga County, called Consensus. The region was granted $500 million in a similar 2015 state-funded contest, a portion of which Cuomo said was contingent on Syracuse following through on its ambitious consolidation plan.</p> <p>Studies on whether larger municipalities are actually more efficient have produced mixed findings. A study done 10 years after the 1998 amalgamation of Toronto, for example, indicates that larger governments become more less responsive and more sluggish, resulting in increased costs.</p> <p>Not that taxpayer savings should be the primary, or only, motivation for large-scale municipal consolidation.</p> <p>In the case of the Syracuse merger, more equitable distribution of better quality services across the the county is a major focus. One of the most influential advocates for this type of merger is David Rusk, the former mayor of Albuquerque, New Mexico, who long-argued for what he terms an “elastic city” — one free of geographic limitations — which could help rectify economic, social and racial inequities, he says, and encourage greater political participation county-wide. However, in places like Syracuse, people of color who live in the city fear they’ll lose political influence with a larger unified government, while suburbanites feel that <a href="https://www.cgr.org/consensuscny/docs/The_Future_of_Government_Consolidation_in_Upstate_NY.pdf" target="_blank">the consolidation</a> could dilute their quality of service.</p> <p>City-county mergers are notoriously difficult to pull off. While there has been some success in other parts of the country, all recent merger attempts in New York, like a proposed Buffalo-Erie merger in the early 2000s, have failed. The state’s only major regional consolidation was in 1898, when the City of New York was formed out of five boroughs, and the Syracuse-area Consensus plan is seen as an experiment of whether a consolidation of this scale can work again.</p> <p>Cuomo has enthusiastically supported the Syracuse merger, but <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2016/11/the-great-er-syracuse-experiment-106762" target="_blank">as Politico reported</a>, the plan is at risk of being derailed by long-standing differences among Cuomo, Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney, and Syracuse’s Mayor Stephanie Miner, and there are still more questions than answers about how it would meet the at times conflicting interests of city residents and suburbanites.</p> <p>Occasionally, villages vote to dissolve themselves into neighboring municipalities -- since 1921, 47 village governments in New York have dissolved, 10 of them in the past five years, according to a recent Empire Center report (see graph below). As attorney general, Cuomo pushed through a bill easing the village dissolution process and sweetening the pot for eligible villages with a $58,006 “Community Empowerment Tax Credit” when the dissolution is approved.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/village-dissolutions-nys.jpg" alt="village dissolutions nys" width="450" height="242" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" /></p> <p>In these instances, however, the tax savings per household are usually small, and more often than not, villagers resist consolidation, saying they’d prefer to pay slightly higher taxes to retain their community identity and personal touch from local government.</p> <p>An example of this is the Village of Cayuga Heights (the Ithaca suburb where this reporter grew up), which has its own mayor and government and where residents consistently vote against joining its fire and police services with neighboring municipalities. “I think if we were to say, ‘Oh, let’s just join up with the Village of Lansing,’ we’d be bigger than the city of Ithaca, but we’d lose a lot too,” said Joan Mangione, the village clerk and treasurer. “When our residents come in to pay taxes, they want to feel ‘this is my best tax dollar at work.’”</p> <p>Despite an attachment to these extra amenities, Cayuga Heights officials tout the village’s extensive record of looking for consolidation opportunities that make sense: it is a partner in Bolton Point, a water supply plant built in 1976 that serves five municipalities and it is represented in Tompkins County Council of Governments (TCCOG), one of two county committees in the state that meet regularly to discuss shared services, including a progressive <a href="http://www.tompkinscountyny.gov/tccog/health-consortium" target="_blank">healthcare consortium</a> that has saved taxpayers millions of dollars.</p> <p>Other examples of residents electing to pay a higher price tag for uniquely responsive municipal services <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/1996/10/27/nyregion/where-the-rich-live-and-live-well.html" target="_blank">can be found</a> in many towns, villages and hamlets of Westchester County, where residents consistently pay the highest property taxes in the nation (an average of $13,842 per household in 2013, <a href="http://www.zillow.com/blog/property-taxes-2015-173854/" target="_blank">according to Zillow</a>). The bloated bill is <a href="http://www.westchestermagazine.com/Westchester-Magazine/June-2010/Why-Are-Our-Taxes-So-High/" target="_blank">often justified</a> by the county’s exemplary schools -- where between $20,000 and $50,000 a year is spent on each pupil --- and a small town approach from police, fire, and sanitation workers.</p> <p>Political scientist and SUNY New Paltz professor Gerald Benjamin, a proponent of municipal consolidation, says that these New York municipalities should be more open to compromise.</p> <p>“Look, we want low costs, we want our services, we have to have a hierarchy of values, and we want democracy -- which we are not always getting, because it’s too complex,” Benjamin said. “If we want all those things, they run into each other; they are not all aligned. Sometimes you are presented a range of desserts at Thanksgiving — but if you eat them all, you are going to get fat.”</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Does Higher Pay Attract Better Politicians? 2016-12-04T05:00:00+00:00 2016-12-04T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6651:does-higher-pay-attract-better-politicians Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/24334330016_32713cd084_z_1.jpg" alt="state of the state auditorium standing" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p dir="ltr">(photo <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/governorandrewcuomo/24334330016/in/photostream/" target="_blank">via The Governor's Office</a>)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">After months of deliberating, a commission tasked with recommending salary adjustments for state lawmakers and executive branch employees met for the final time on Nov. 15 and did not suggest raises. The salary of New York state legislators has remained the same since 1999, and could stay unchanged until the commission meets again in another four years, as established by the 2015 law that created a new process for such pay raises.</p> <p dir="ltr">Governor Andrew Cuomo and members of the Senate and Assembly could override their recent decision to leave raises up to a commission and pass compensation reform earlier.&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">One of the main arguments made in support of raising lawmaker salaries is that a higher salary would “attract the best possible people to pursue the position,” since “a depressed salary will eventually discourage qualified people from pursuing those offices,” as Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie wrote in a letter sent to the commission Oct. 5.</p> <p dir="ltr">Though the notion that increasing politicians’ pay is needed to attract better candidates to office may be<a href="http://www.nyscommissiononcompensation.org/pdf/PaySurveyCommentsRochester-without-names.pdf"> quite</a><a href="http://www.nyscommissiononcompensation.org/pdf/Rochester-survey.pdf" target="_blank"> disagreeable</a> to the public, Heastie is not alone in that line of thinking.</p> <p dir="ltr">Some government reform advocates, academics, and, naturally, Heastie’s appointee to the commission, Roman Hedges, have argued that better pay generates increased competition among candidates, leading to more choices for voters, and, as Hedges put it, would attract “the best people available” and create a “more professional Legislature."&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">But is that true? The body of academic research examining this question has produced somewhat mixed results, though the findings generally support the claim. Most studies have shown that higher wages do result in increased political competition and attract more educated candidates (more college degree holders). Most research also shows that higher pay increases the rate at which incumbents seek reelection.</p> <p dir="ltr">Some studies shows that higher salaries improve lawmakers’ performance in office (as measured by the number of bills submitted and approved), while others have found that lawmakers with higher salaries spend less time on legislative activities.</p> <p dir="ltr">New York State lawmakers currently earn a base salary of $79,500 annually for what is technically a part-time job. Lawmakers may still hold employment elsewhere and earn outside income (and almost half<a href="http://www.nyscommissiononcompensation.org/pdf/CCNY_OutsideIncome_Dec2015.pdf" target="_blank"> do</a>), and most lawmakers earn an additional $9,000-$41,500 annually from legislative stipends, or lulus, and also get per diems for traveling to Albany.&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">Even though they haven’t had a raise in 17 years and the job is part-time, New York lawmakers are still the third highest paid in the nation, behind only California ($100,113 per year) and Pennsylvania ($85,339). How often state legislatures meet and how they function differ vastly from state to state, with some, like New Hampshire, paying its lawmakers only $100 a year in order to maintain a more citizen legislature.&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">Had New York state lawmakers’ salaries kept up with inflation, legislators would earn about $114,000 annually. The median household income in New York is<a href="http://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045215/36" target="_blank"> $58,687</a>. New York City Council members recently voted themselves raises, to increase the base salary to $148,500 per year, but they also banned outside income and lulus, and are subject to a maximum of two four-year terms. There are no term limits in the state Legislature, which is “in session” from January to June each year.</p> <p dir="ltr">Peverill Squire, a political science professor at the University of Missouri, has a<a href="http://www.nyscommissiononcompensation.org/pdf/NY%20State%20testimony.pdf" target="_blank"> body of research</a> measuring the impact of salaries on state lawmakers across the United States. Overall, Squire has found that more seats go uncontested when legislative pay is lower (giving voters fewer choices); higher pay allows lawmakers to spend more time on their legislative responsibilities; and higher salaries are more likely to attract lawmakers who hold college degrees. For example,<a href="http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2015/12/10/state-legislatures-have-fewer-farmers-lawyers-but-higher-education-level" target="_blank"> 88 percent of California state lawmakers</a>, who earn $100,113 annually, have college degrees, while only 49 percent of New Hampshire state lawmakers, who earn $100 annually, have graduated from college.</p> <p dir="ltr">Squire sent<a href="http://www.nyscommissiononcompensation.org/pdf/NY%20State%20testimony.pdf"> testimony</a> to the New York State compensation commission, per the commission’s request, summarizing some of the findings from academic literature examining the influence of salaries on lawmakers. More professionalized legislatures (meaning legislatures that meet longer and supply lawmakers with higher salaries and more staff)<a href="http://www.jstor.org/stable/440212?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents" target="_blank"> pass a greater percentage of bills</a> overall and enact more bills per legislative day.</p> <p dir="ltr">Squire also noted that turnover declines as salary levels increase (the effects of which are debatable), and that lawmakers in legislatures with a higher degree of professionalization “have<a href="http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1111/1468-2508.t01-3-00008?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents" target="_blank"> more contact with their constituents</a>” and “are<a href="http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/lsq.12009/abstract?userIsAuthenticated=false&amp;deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=" target="_blank"> more attentive</a> to their concerns.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Some academics and policy experts caution against thinking of higher salaries as a panacea for Albany’s dysfunction. New York lawmakers are relatively well-paid among state legislatures nationally, yet that has neither deterred corruption in the state capital nor resulted in a more functional legislature.</p> <p dir="ltr">The state Legislature is “more transactional than they’ve ever been,” said E.J. McMahon, research director of the Empire Center, a conservative think tank that studies the state economy and public policy. “At this point, by historical standards for sure, the Governor and the state Legislature, given their responsibilities, are not paid enough…but the Legislature stands out for how poor a job it does in many ways,” McMahon said.</p> <p dir="ltr">“They introduce thousands and thousands of bills, do very little in the way of real deliberation,” McMahon added, highlighting frustrations raised in responses to a public opinion survey posted on the compensation commission’s<a href="http://www.nyscommissiononcompensation.org/pdf/PaySurveyCommentsRochester-without-names.pdf" target="_blank"> website</a>. “They’re as bad as they’ve ever been at waiting till the last minute to sheepishly go along and rubber stamp something that legislative leaders have cut a deal on” with the governor, McMahon said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Adjusting the compensation levels of elected officials is a tricky situation for many reasons, especially because lawmakers inevitably have to prompt their own raise in some way, which is always a politically unfavorable move. And in New York, legislators living in and around New York City have a far greater cost of living than others.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I think we need to pay people commensurate with our expectations of them,” said Gerald Benjamin, professor of political science and director of the Benjamin Center at SUNY New Paltz, who served on a compensation commission in Ulster County. Benjamin would prefer that state lawmakers do “full-time work for full-time pay,” in accordance with what is needed to “live reasonably as a family person in New York.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Yet since that needed amount would differ in different areas of the state, “and compensation needs to be equal because of the nature of the task,” compensation would be skewed toward the higher end, and salaries should “be adjusted formulaically after a base is established…Pay must be targeted to open up the possibility to serve to a broad spectrum of New Yorkers,” Benjamin said.&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">Benjamin’s suggestion calls attention to the difficulty of adjusting the salaries of elected officials based on one measurement alone, which is what led Italian economists Stefano Gagliarducci and Tommaso Nannicini to<a href="http://www.tommasonannicini.eu/media/works/files/Pay_Pol_JEEA.pdf" target="_blank"> examine</a> the relationship between pay and the quality of Italian mayors, as the wage of mayors in Italy depends on population size. Like New York state lawmakers, Italian mayors may also earn outside income. Gagliarducci and Nannicini found that higher wages attracted more educated candidates (as measured by the amount of years spent in school).&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">Another<a href="http://eml.berkeley.edu/~ffinan/Finan_MPoliticians.pdf" target="_blank"> study</a> examined whether higher wages improve lawmakers’ performance in office, increase competition for office, and attract “higher quality candidates” amongst municipal councilors in Brazil after a constitutional amendment introduced caps on their wages according to population size, resulting in some legislators receiving higher pay than others.&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">Economists Claudio Ferraz and Frederico Finan analyzed the educational and professional background of everyone who ran for municipal government in the year the amendment took effect, and tracked what the winning candidates did while in office. They found that higher wages increased political competition by attracting more candidates (though it also increased reelection rates among incumbent candidates), and attracted more educated legislators with more experience, though this effect was modest. As with New York state lawmakers, the role of a municipal councilor in Brazil is not a full-time position, and a majority of councilors still have an additional professional role.</p> <p dir="ltr">Additionally, Ferraz and Finan found that higher salaries improved politicians’ performance in office, as measured by both the number of bills submitted by legislators and the number of bills approved, which they believe may be due to the higher incentive to be reelected.</p> <p dir="ltr">However, not all academic research points to the same conclusion. In 2014, Columbia Business School economist Raymond Fisman and others<a href="http://faculty.chicagobooth.edu/emir.kamenica/documents/mepLaborSupply.pdf" target="_blank"> analyzed</a> the impact of salaries on the educational background of members of the European Parliament, and the performance of those MEPs while in office (as a law had just been introduced which equalized MEPs’ salaries, which had previously differed significantly) and found that increased salaries actually decreased the number of MEPs who came from highly-ranked universities.</p> <p dir="ltr">Like Ferraz and Finan, however, Fisman also found that higher salaries also increased the number of incumbents who ran for reelection, and that higher salaries did “induce more political competition.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Significantly, Fisman’s study found that MEPs whose pay increased did not become more productive in terms of their attendance at legislative sessions or their legislative output (including the number of reports prepared, written declarations, motions for resolutions, etc.). The researchers concluded that in this instance, “monetary incentives have no discernible impact on politicians’ effort, which seems more influenced by non pecuniary motivations.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Fisman believes this could perhaps be the result of extrinsic rewards (more money) overriding the intrinsic ones (a personal calling to represent people). Though most academic research has found that higher pay does indeed increase political competition by prompting more candidates to run for office, Fisman’s findings suggest that higher pay may not necessarily lead to “better” representatives, though the additional money does attract some candidates who may not have otherwise run for office.</p> <p dir="ltr">“There is a relationship between higher pay and inducing more people to run,” said Fritz Schwarz, Jr., chief counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice and chair of New York City’s 2015 quadrennial advisory commission, which was called to evaluate the salaries of the city’s elected officials and led to pay raises for City Council members, the Mayor, and other positions. “But I think it’s not a one-to-one relationship,” Schwarz said. “There are good people who choose to run with the low pay, and not everybody who is induced to run with the high pay is going to be Alexander Hamilton or James Madison.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Another<a href="https://gps.ucsd.edu/_files/faculty/lyons/lyons_research_07022014.pdf" target="_blank"> 2014 study</a>, one which examined the salaries of state legislators and governors across the United States over the past 60 years, found that politicians in states with higher wages “spend greater time on fund-raising and on constituent services, but no more time on legislative activities.” Professors Elizabeth Lyons at the University of California and Mitchell Hoffman at the University of Toronto caution that their findings call into question the claim that increasing legislators’ salaries will improve the quality of state governments. However, their study did again find that higher salaries are associated with increases in political competitiveness, though the effect was modest.</p> <p dir="ltr">Overall, most studies find that higher pay does lead to more competitive elections, which is good for voters, and generally attracts candidates with more years of education. Higher pay alone does not necessarily improve the performance of politicians while in office, which is itself tricky to define, though it does give them a greater incentive to get reelected, which may influence them to work harder to maintain their position.</p> <p dir="ltr">Adjusted for inflation, New York state lawmakers are making less now than at most points since their last raise, in 1999. State lawmakers in California and Pennsylvania, the two states that pay their legislators more than New York, regularly see their salaries increased incrementally every year -- Pennsylvania's are pegged to a cost of living adjustment and in California&nbsp;a commission meets every year to adjust legislator salaries.</p> <p dir="ltr">The question of whether or not lawmakers should receive a raise often becomes entangled by other questions: should they be able to earn outside income, or should the position be considered full-time? Should members who don’t hold leadership positions still receive stipends? Should pay be based on how effective lawmakers actually are?</p> <p dir="ltr">Strong differences of opinion on these questions ultimately led to the state compensation commission’s failure to do the one thing it was called to do: recommend salary adjustments.</p> <p dir="ltr">Government reform advocates, academics, and even some members of the commission were generally in agreement that New York state lawmakers ought to be paid a bit more, despite the fact that they are already the third highest paid lawmakers in the nation and Albany is still very dysfunctional. Governor Andrew Cuomo and his appointees to the compensation commission are, in fact, demanding other reforms to the position, like limits on outside income, in exchange for a salary increase -- something legislative leaders have balked at and called inappropriate given the duties of the commission.</p> <p>“I think a lot of legislators in both houses, in both parties, are very frustrated with the way things work, and pay is a varying part of that frustration for some of them,” said McMahon. “But most of them are not going to be any less frustrated - they’ll simply be paid more and just as frustrated. They see how badly the system works and they’d like to change it, but they can’t figure out how to do it.”</p> <p>

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by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette
     

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/24334330016_32713cd084_z_1.jpg" alt="state of the state auditorium standing" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p dir="ltr">(photo <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/governorandrewcuomo/24334330016/in/photostream/" target="_blank">via The Governor's Office</a>)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">After months of deliberating, a commission tasked with recommending salary adjustments for state lawmakers and executive branch employees met for the final time on Nov. 15 and did not suggest raises. The salary of New York state legislators has remained the same since 1999, and could stay unchanged until the commission meets again in another four years, as established by the 2015 law that created a new process for such pay raises.</p> <p dir="ltr">Governor Andrew Cuomo and members of the Senate and Assembly could override their recent decision to leave raises up to a commission and pass compensation reform earlier.&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">One of the main arguments made in support of raising lawmaker salaries is that a higher salary would “attract the best possible people to pursue the position,” since “a depressed salary will eventually discourage qualified people from pursuing those offices,” as Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie wrote in a letter sent to the commission Oct. 5.</p> <p dir="ltr">Though the notion that increasing politicians’ pay is needed to attract better candidates to office may be<a href="http://www.nyscommissiononcompensation.org/pdf/PaySurveyCommentsRochester-without-names.pdf"> quite</a><a href="http://www.nyscommissiononcompensation.org/pdf/Rochester-survey.pdf" target="_blank"> disagreeable</a> to the public, Heastie is not alone in that line of thinking.</p> <p dir="ltr">Some government reform advocates, academics, and, naturally, Heastie’s appointee to the commission, Roman Hedges, have argued that better pay generates increased competition among candidates, leading to more choices for voters, and, as Hedges put it, would attract “the best people available” and create a “more professional Legislature."&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">But is that true? The body of academic research examining this question has produced somewhat mixed results, though the findings generally support the claim. Most studies have shown that higher wages do result in increased political competition and attract more educated candidates (more college degree holders). Most research also shows that higher pay increases the rate at which incumbents seek reelection.</p> <p dir="ltr">Some studies shows that higher salaries improve lawmakers’ performance in office (as measured by the number of bills submitted and approved), while others have found that lawmakers with higher salaries spend less time on legislative activities.</p> <p dir="ltr">New York State lawmakers currently earn a base salary of $79,500 annually for what is technically a part-time job. Lawmakers may still hold employment elsewhere and earn outside income (and almost half<a href="http://www.nyscommissiononcompensation.org/pdf/CCNY_OutsideIncome_Dec2015.pdf" target="_blank"> do</a>), and most lawmakers earn an additional $9,000-$41,500 annually from legislative stipends, or lulus, and also get per diems for traveling to Albany.&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">Even though they haven’t had a raise in 17 years and the job is part-time, New York lawmakers are still the third highest paid in the nation, behind only California ($100,113 per year) and Pennsylvania ($85,339). How often state legislatures meet and how they function differ vastly from state to state, with some, like New Hampshire, paying its lawmakers only $100 a year in order to maintain a more citizen legislature.&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">Had New York state lawmakers’ salaries kept up with inflation, legislators would earn about $114,000 annually. The median household income in New York is<a href="http://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045215/36" target="_blank"> $58,687</a>. New York City Council members recently voted themselves raises, to increase the base salary to $148,500 per year, but they also banned outside income and lulus, and are subject to a maximum of two four-year terms. There are no term limits in the state Legislature, which is “in session” from January to June each year.</p> <p dir="ltr">Peverill Squire, a political science professor at the University of Missouri, has a<a href="http://www.nyscommissiononcompensation.org/pdf/NY%20State%20testimony.pdf" target="_blank"> body of research</a> measuring the impact of salaries on state lawmakers across the United States. Overall, Squire has found that more seats go uncontested when legislative pay is lower (giving voters fewer choices); higher pay allows lawmakers to spend more time on their legislative responsibilities; and higher salaries are more likely to attract lawmakers who hold college degrees. For example,<a href="http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2015/12/10/state-legislatures-have-fewer-farmers-lawyers-but-higher-education-level" target="_blank"> 88 percent of California state lawmakers</a>, who earn $100,113 annually, have college degrees, while only 49 percent of New Hampshire state lawmakers, who earn $100 annually, have graduated from college.</p> <p dir="ltr">Squire sent<a href="http://www.nyscommissiononcompensation.org/pdf/NY%20State%20testimony.pdf"> testimony</a> to the New York State compensation commission, per the commission’s request, summarizing some of the findings from academic literature examining the influence of salaries on lawmakers. More professionalized legislatures (meaning legislatures that meet longer and supply lawmakers with higher salaries and more staff)<a href="http://www.jstor.org/stable/440212?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents" target="_blank"> pass a greater percentage of bills</a> overall and enact more bills per legislative day.</p> <p dir="ltr">Squire also noted that turnover declines as salary levels increase (the effects of which are debatable), and that lawmakers in legislatures with a higher degree of professionalization “have<a href="http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1111/1468-2508.t01-3-00008?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents" target="_blank"> more contact with their constituents</a>” and “are<a href="http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/lsq.12009/abstract?userIsAuthenticated=false&amp;deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=" target="_blank"> more attentive</a> to their concerns.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Some academics and policy experts caution against thinking of higher salaries as a panacea for Albany’s dysfunction. New York lawmakers are relatively well-paid among state legislatures nationally, yet that has neither deterred corruption in the state capital nor resulted in a more functional legislature.</p> <p dir="ltr">The state Legislature is “more transactional than they’ve ever been,” said E.J. McMahon, research director of the Empire Center, a conservative think tank that studies the state economy and public policy. “At this point, by historical standards for sure, the Governor and the state Legislature, given their responsibilities, are not paid enough…but the Legislature stands out for how poor a job it does in many ways,” McMahon said.</p> <p dir="ltr">“They introduce thousands and thousands of bills, do very little in the way of real deliberation,” McMahon added, highlighting frustrations raised in responses to a public opinion survey posted on the compensation commission’s<a href="http://www.nyscommissiononcompensation.org/pdf/PaySurveyCommentsRochester-without-names.pdf" target="_blank"> website</a>. “They’re as bad as they’ve ever been at waiting till the last minute to sheepishly go along and rubber stamp something that legislative leaders have cut a deal on” with the governor, McMahon said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Adjusting the compensation levels of elected officials is a tricky situation for many reasons, especially because lawmakers inevitably have to prompt their own raise in some way, which is always a politically unfavorable move. And in New York, legislators living in and around New York City have a far greater cost of living than others.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I think we need to pay people commensurate with our expectations of them,” said Gerald Benjamin, professor of political science and director of the Benjamin Center at SUNY New Paltz, who served on a compensation commission in Ulster County. Benjamin would prefer that state lawmakers do “full-time work for full-time pay,” in accordance with what is needed to “live reasonably as a family person in New York.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Yet since that needed amount would differ in different areas of the state, “and compensation needs to be equal because of the nature of the task,” compensation would be skewed toward the higher end, and salaries should “be adjusted formulaically after a base is established…Pay must be targeted to open up the possibility to serve to a broad spectrum of New Yorkers,” Benjamin said.&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">Benjamin’s suggestion calls attention to the difficulty of adjusting the salaries of elected officials based on one measurement alone, which is what led Italian economists Stefano Gagliarducci and Tommaso Nannicini to<a href="http://www.tommasonannicini.eu/media/works/files/Pay_Pol_JEEA.pdf" target="_blank"> examine</a> the relationship between pay and the quality of Italian mayors, as the wage of mayors in Italy depends on population size. Like New York state lawmakers, Italian mayors may also earn outside income. Gagliarducci and Nannicini found that higher wages attracted more educated candidates (as measured by the amount of years spent in school).&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">Another<a href="http://eml.berkeley.edu/~ffinan/Finan_MPoliticians.pdf" target="_blank"> study</a> examined whether higher wages improve lawmakers’ performance in office, increase competition for office, and attract “higher quality candidates” amongst municipal councilors in Brazil after a constitutional amendment introduced caps on their wages according to population size, resulting in some legislators receiving higher pay than others.&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">Economists Claudio Ferraz and Frederico Finan analyzed the educational and professional background of everyone who ran for municipal government in the year the amendment took effect, and tracked what the winning candidates did while in office. They found that higher wages increased political competition by attracting more candidates (though it also increased reelection rates among incumbent candidates), and attracted more educated legislators with more experience, though this effect was modest. As with New York state lawmakers, the role of a municipal councilor in Brazil is not a full-time position, and a majority of councilors still have an additional professional role.</p> <p dir="ltr">Additionally, Ferraz and Finan found that higher salaries improved politicians’ performance in office, as measured by both the number of bills submitted by legislators and the number of bills approved, which they believe may be due to the higher incentive to be reelected.</p> <p dir="ltr">However, not all academic research points to the same conclusion. In 2014, Columbia Business School economist Raymond Fisman and others<a href="http://faculty.chicagobooth.edu/emir.kamenica/documents/mepLaborSupply.pdf" target="_blank"> analyzed</a> the impact of salaries on the educational background of members of the European Parliament, and the performance of those MEPs while in office (as a law had just been introduced which equalized MEPs’ salaries, which had previously differed significantly) and found that increased salaries actually decreased the number of MEPs who came from highly-ranked universities.</p> <p dir="ltr">Like Ferraz and Finan, however, Fisman also found that higher salaries also increased the number of incumbents who ran for reelection, and that higher salaries did “induce more political competition.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Significantly, Fisman’s study found that MEPs whose pay increased did not become more productive in terms of their attendance at legislative sessions or their legislative output (including the number of reports prepared, written declarations, motions for resolutions, etc.). The researchers concluded that in this instance, “monetary incentives have no discernible impact on politicians’ effort, which seems more influenced by non pecuniary motivations.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Fisman believes this could perhaps be the result of extrinsic rewards (more money) overriding the intrinsic ones (a personal calling to represent people). Though most academic research has found that higher pay does indeed increase political competition by prompting more candidates to run for office, Fisman’s findings suggest that higher pay may not necessarily lead to “better” representatives, though the additional money does attract some candidates who may not have otherwise run for office.</p> <p dir="ltr">“There is a relationship between higher pay and inducing more people to run,” said Fritz Schwarz, Jr., chief counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice and chair of New York City’s 2015 quadrennial advisory commission, which was called to evaluate the salaries of the city’s elected officials and led to pay raises for City Council members, the Mayor, and other positions. “But I think it’s not a one-to-one relationship,” Schwarz said. “There are good people who choose to run with the low pay, and not everybody who is induced to run with the high pay is going to be Alexander Hamilton or James Madison.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Another<a href="https://gps.ucsd.edu/_files/faculty/lyons/lyons_research_07022014.pdf" target="_blank"> 2014 study</a>, one which examined the salaries of state legislators and governors across the United States over the past 60 years, found that politicians in states with higher wages “spend greater time on fund-raising and on constituent services, but no more time on legislative activities.” Professors Elizabeth Lyons at the University of California and Mitchell Hoffman at the University of Toronto caution that their findings call into question the claim that increasing legislators’ salaries will improve the quality of state governments. However, their study did again find that higher salaries are associated with increases in political competitiveness, though the effect was modest.</p> <p dir="ltr">Overall, most studies find that higher pay does lead to more competitive elections, which is good for voters, and generally attracts candidates with more years of education. Higher pay alone does not necessarily improve the performance of politicians while in office, which is itself tricky to define, though it does give them a greater incentive to get reelected, which may influence them to work harder to maintain their position.</p> <p dir="ltr">Adjusted for inflation, New York state lawmakers are making less now than at most points since their last raise, in 1999. State lawmakers in California and Pennsylvania, the two states that pay their legislators more than New York, regularly see their salaries increased incrementally every year -- Pennsylvania's are pegged to a cost of living adjustment and in California&nbsp;a commission meets every year to adjust legislator salaries.</p> <p dir="ltr">The question of whether or not lawmakers should receive a raise often becomes entangled by other questions: should they be able to earn outside income, or should the position be considered full-time? Should members who don’t hold leadership positions still receive stipends? Should pay be based on how effective lawmakers actually are?</p> <p dir="ltr">Strong differences of opinion on these questions ultimately led to the state compensation commission’s failure to do the one thing it was called to do: recommend salary adjustments.</p> <p dir="ltr">Government reform advocates, academics, and even some members of the commission were generally in agreement that New York state lawmakers ought to be paid a bit more, despite the fact that they are already the third highest paid lawmakers in the nation and Albany is still very dysfunctional. Governor Andrew Cuomo and his appointees to the compensation commission are, in fact, demanding other reforms to the position, like limits on outside income, in exchange for a salary increase -- something legislative leaders have balked at and called inappropriate given the duties of the commission.</p> <p>“I think a lot of legislators in both houses, in both parties, are very frustrated with the way things work, and pay is a varying part of that frustration for some of them,” said McMahon. “But most of them are not going to be any less frustrated - they’ll simply be paid more and just as frustrated. They see how badly the system works and they’d like to change it, but they can’t figure out how to do it.”</p> <p>

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by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette
     

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Recommendations Near, State Pay Commission Constitutionality Questioned 2016-11-13T05:00:00+00:00 2016-11-13T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6622:recommendations-near-state-pay-commission-constitutionality-questioned Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2016/19131688266_b1bf3b40bb_z_2.jpg" alt="heastie cuomo flanagan" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Heastie, Cuomo, Flanagan (photo via Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">Recommendations on potential salary increases for Governor Cuomo and members of the state Legislature are due Tuesday, but constitutional questions hang over the effort to increase legislative and executive chamber pay.</p> <p dir="ltr">The New York State Commission on Legislative, Judicial, &amp; Executive Compensation is at the center of the issue and an ongoing legal battle over the validity of the process it was put in charge of through 2015 legislation. Created as part of the April 2015 budget package, the commission is charged with making recommendations for salaries for the legislative, judicial, and executive branches of state government. The recommendations are due Tuesday, November 15, and will become law for the new year, when the next, largely unchanged class of state legislators takes office, unless they are modified or voted down by the current Legislature.</p> <p dir="ltr">Raises for state legislators -- state Senators and Assembly members currently make a base salary of $79,500 -- would be the first since 1999. But the nature of this process has been questioned, with disagreement over whether this method of increasing salaries is allowed under the New York State Constitution because of the delegation of such power to the commission, which the law states will now convene every four years.</p> <p dir="ltr">The budget “created the commission and it gave it the force of law,” according to James Coll, the founder <a href="http://changenys.org/" target="_blank">ChangeNYS.org</a>, an adjunct professor at Hofstra University, and the plaintiff in a court case challenging the constitutionality of the commission. “Which means that the commission gets to write the law, and the way that I read the New York State Constitution, those who are given the power to create laws are the Legislature, who have a veto or approval by the governor, or override the governor’s veto, and that is the only way it should pass.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Coll sued the commission, Gov. Cuomo, and the state Legislature. His arguments were dismissed in New York State Supreme Court in Nassau County, but he has appealed to the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court.</p> <p dir="ltr">On behalf of the defendants, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s Motion to Dismiss argued against Coll on two grounds.</p> <p dir="ltr">First, the motion argued that Coll’s “deep concern” does not provide him the standing to sue. In the motion’s eyes, “standing to sue requires the plaintiff to allege not only that he has an injury in fact that is distinct from any injury of the general public, but also, that he is within the zone of interests protected by the statute or constitutional provision at issue.” Furthermore, as the motion says that Coll’s injury is “identical to any alleged injury suffered by the general public, as well as speculative,” Coll’s “deep concern” did not provide him adequate standing to sue.</p> <p dir="ltr">Second, the motion concluded that the commission is constitutional, on multiple grounds: that Coll did not prove the unconstitutionality of the commission beyond a reasonable doubt, that this commission was not an improper delegation of legislative authority, that the provisions cited by Coll “do not support his contentions,” and that “other states’ similar compensation statutes have been upheld” by the United States Supreme Court.</p> <p dir="ltr">New York State Supreme Court Justice George R. Peck agreed with Schneiderman’s motion and dismissed the case in a three-sentence statement. In finishing his statement, Peck wrote, “Although this court has a financial interest in the outcome of this case, recusal is not necessary because every New York State Supreme Court Justice would have the same interest.”</p> <p dir="ltr">As Coll appeals, government officials dismiss the validity of his case, but other experts think that he raises some very important questions on the constitutionality of the pay commission.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I think it’s an intriguing argument. It could go either way. And I think a close reading of the constitution with specific provisions could lead you to a conclusion that an affirmative vote is needed,” said Gerald Benjamin, a dean and political scientist at SUNY-New Paltz, hitting on one key aspect of the pay commission’s larger structure: that its recommendations become law unless voted down. “But the courts have been respectful of the Legislature, so it’s hard to predict how the Court of Appeals will ultimately decide on this,” Benjamin said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Provisions of the New York State Constitution, like <a href="https://www.dos.ny.gov/info/constitution/article_3_legislature.html" target="_blank">Article 3, Sections 13 and 14</a>, outlining how laws should be enacted and how bills should be passed, and <a href="https://www.dos.ny.gov/info/constitution/article_7_state_finances.html" target="_blank">Article 7, Section 7</a>, outlining when money can’t “be paid out of the state treasury or any of its funds,” could, in Benjamin’s opinion, be interpreted in a way that puts the constitutionality of the commission into doubt.</p> <p dir="ltr">The commission was created as part of the budget agreement among Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, and the leaders of the state Senate, which is controlled by Republicans, and the state Assembly, which has a Democratic majority. The commission has met five times publicly this year to hear testimony and discuss its jurisdiction and factors into its recommendations, and it will meet once more on November 15th, the day recommendations are due.</p> <p dir="ltr">The commission has seen public infighting and canceled meetings, and it has been the subject of squabbling between Cuomo and legislative leaders. Cuomo made multiple comments tying the commission’s recommendations to the Legislature taking certain actions, including on timely budgets and campaign finance reform, and indicating that he believes pay raises should be accompanied by government ethics reforms. Cuomo wants to see a limit or ban on legislators’ outside income, which is currently unlimited.</p> <p dir="ltr">In a statement to Gotham Gazette about the constitutionality of the commission, Abbey Fashouer, a spokesperson for Cuomo, said that “the court has already squarely rejected constitutional challenges to the pay commission.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Gov. Cuomo has been relatively quiet on the commission of late. He <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2016/09/cuomo-coy-on-legislative-pay-raise/" target="_blank">remarked</a> several weeks ago that, “Once the commission finishes, they will submit their findings, their opinion, their record. And then I’ll have an opinion that I’ll state, informed by the commission. But the purpose of the commission is to advise me on that question.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s office supported the commission in a recent public statement, calling it necessary “in order to remove politics from the decision making process in determining appropriate salary structures in our government.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Neither Heastie’s office nor the office of Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan returned requests for comment for this story.</p> <p dir="ltr">Both Coll and Benjamin disapprove of Heastie’s desire to remove politics, and therefore the people who elect lawmakers, from the decision-making process. Coll believes that this removal of elected officials from the decision-making is unconstitutional.</p> <p>

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by Brendan Birth for Gotham Gazette

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2016/19131688266_b1bf3b40bb_z_2.jpg" alt="heastie cuomo flanagan" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Heastie, Cuomo, Flanagan (photo via Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">Recommendations on potential salary increases for Governor Cuomo and members of the state Legislature are due Tuesday, but constitutional questions hang over the effort to increase legislative and executive chamber pay.</p> <p dir="ltr">The New York State Commission on Legislative, Judicial, &amp; Executive Compensation is at the center of the issue and an ongoing legal battle over the validity of the process it was put in charge of through 2015 legislation. Created as part of the April 2015 budget package, the commission is charged with making recommendations for salaries for the legislative, judicial, and executive branches of state government. The recommendations are due Tuesday, November 15, and will become law for the new year, when the next, largely unchanged class of state legislators takes office, unless they are modified or voted down by the current Legislature.</p> <p dir="ltr">Raises for state legislators -- state Senators and Assembly members currently make a base salary of $79,500 -- would be the first since 1999. But the nature of this process has been questioned, with disagreement over whether this method of increasing salaries is allowed under the New York State Constitution because of the delegation of such power to the commission, which the law states will now convene every four years.</p> <p dir="ltr">The budget “created the commission and it gave it the force of law,” according to James Coll, the founder <a href="http://changenys.org/" target="_blank">ChangeNYS.org</a>, an adjunct professor at Hofstra University, and the plaintiff in a court case challenging the constitutionality of the commission. “Which means that the commission gets to write the law, and the way that I read the New York State Constitution, those who are given the power to create laws are the Legislature, who have a veto or approval by the governor, or override the governor’s veto, and that is the only way it should pass.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Coll sued the commission, Gov. Cuomo, and the state Legislature. His arguments were dismissed in New York State Supreme Court in Nassau County, but he has appealed to the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court.</p> <p dir="ltr">On behalf of the defendants, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s Motion to Dismiss argued against Coll on two grounds.</p> <p dir="ltr">First, the motion argued that Coll’s “deep concern” does not provide him the standing to sue. In the motion’s eyes, “standing to sue requires the plaintiff to allege not only that he has an injury in fact that is distinct from any injury of the general public, but also, that he is within the zone of interests protected by the statute or constitutional provision at issue.” Furthermore, as the motion says that Coll’s injury is “identical to any alleged injury suffered by the general public, as well as speculative,” Coll’s “deep concern” did not provide him adequate standing to sue.</p> <p dir="ltr">Second, the motion concluded that the commission is constitutional, on multiple grounds: that Coll did not prove the unconstitutionality of the commission beyond a reasonable doubt, that this commission was not an improper delegation of legislative authority, that the provisions cited by Coll “do not support his contentions,” and that “other states’ similar compensation statutes have been upheld” by the United States Supreme Court.</p> <p dir="ltr">New York State Supreme Court Justice George R. Peck agreed with Schneiderman’s motion and dismissed the case in a three-sentence statement. In finishing his statement, Peck wrote, “Although this court has a financial interest in the outcome of this case, recusal is not necessary because every New York State Supreme Court Justice would have the same interest.”</p> <p dir="ltr">As Coll appeals, government officials dismiss the validity of his case, but other experts think that he raises some very important questions on the constitutionality of the pay commission.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I think it’s an intriguing argument. It could go either way. And I think a close reading of the constitution with specific provisions could lead you to a conclusion that an affirmative vote is needed,” said Gerald Benjamin, a dean and political scientist at SUNY-New Paltz, hitting on one key aspect of the pay commission’s larger structure: that its recommendations become law unless voted down. “But the courts have been respectful of the Legislature, so it’s hard to predict how the Court of Appeals will ultimately decide on this,” Benjamin said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Provisions of the New York State Constitution, like <a href="https://www.dos.ny.gov/info/constitution/article_3_legislature.html" target="_blank">Article 3, Sections 13 and 14</a>, outlining how laws should be enacted and how bills should be passed, and <a href="https://www.dos.ny.gov/info/constitution/article_7_state_finances.html" target="_blank">Article 7, Section 7</a>, outlining when money can’t “be paid out of the state treasury or any of its funds,” could, in Benjamin’s opinion, be interpreted in a way that puts the constitutionality of the commission into doubt.</p> <p dir="ltr">The commission was created as part of the budget agreement among Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, and the leaders of the state Senate, which is controlled by Republicans, and the state Assembly, which has a Democratic majority. The commission has met five times publicly this year to hear testimony and discuss its jurisdiction and factors into its recommendations, and it will meet once more on November 15th, the day recommendations are due.</p> <p dir="ltr">The commission has seen public infighting and canceled meetings, and it has been the subject of squabbling between Cuomo and legislative leaders. Cuomo made multiple comments tying the commission’s recommendations to the Legislature taking certain actions, including on timely budgets and campaign finance reform, and indicating that he believes pay raises should be accompanied by government ethics reforms. Cuomo wants to see a limit or ban on legislators’ outside income, which is currently unlimited.</p> <p dir="ltr">In a statement to Gotham Gazette about the constitutionality of the commission, Abbey Fashouer, a spokesperson for Cuomo, said that “the court has already squarely rejected constitutional challenges to the pay commission.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Gov. Cuomo has been relatively quiet on the commission of late. He <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2016/09/cuomo-coy-on-legislative-pay-raise/" target="_blank">remarked</a> several weeks ago that, “Once the commission finishes, they will submit their findings, their opinion, their record. And then I’ll have an opinion that I’ll state, informed by the commission. But the purpose of the commission is to advise me on that question.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s office supported the commission in a recent public statement, calling it necessary “in order to remove politics from the decision making process in determining appropriate salary structures in our government.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Neither Heastie’s office nor the office of Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan returned requests for comment for this story.</p> <p dir="ltr">Both Coll and Benjamin disapprove of Heastie’s desire to remove politics, and therefore the people who elect lawmakers, from the decision-making process. Coll believes that this removal of elected officials from the decision-making is unconstitutional.</p> <p>

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by Brendan Birth for Gotham Gazette

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Paying the Overhead for Democracy in New York 2016-05-30T04:00:00+00:00 2016-05-30T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6366:paying-the-overhead-for-democracy-in-new-york Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/8168632301_ff89d070a6_z.jpg" width="600" height="450" alt="voting booths elections campaign finance" /></p> <p>(<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/joeshlabotnik/8168632301" target="_blank">photo by</a> Peter Duton)</p> <hr /> <p>My dad Ruby Benjamin worked as a professional basketball player, a New York City cop, a hosiery salesman and, for much of the second half of his life, the owner of a liquor store on West 31 Street, between Broadway and Sixth Avenue. He loved his first two jobs, but liked the last one the best (the sales job was another story entirely.) Twelve hours a day, six days a week in the store was grueling. “But nobody tells me what to do, Jerry,” he’d say to me. “I’m my own boss.”</p> <p>Being the boss brought responsibilities that never came up when you worked for the city or some big company. “It costs money to put the key in the door,” my father said. “You have to cover the overhead.” The heating bill was yours. So was the lighting bill. If you needed pens and pencils and scotch tape you could not bring them home from the office. You had to buy them.</p> <p>But it was worth it, because no one told you what to do.</p> <p>We like to say that our representative democracy is a system in which the people rule; we are the owners of our governments, or ought to be. Ruby has been dead for almost a decade. But lately, as I’ve read daily about one campaign finance scandal after another, I’ve been reminded of his understanding that being the owner meant having to pay the overhead.</p> <p>The cost of fair competitive elections is our heating and lighting bills as citizens of a democracy. Elections are where we exercise our ownership. As owners, we have to pick up the tab. If we let others pay our bills for keeping our system going, we will lose our ownership, and our democracy. Just look around. That’s what’s happening.</p> <p>You will hear from some that elections should be funded with private money, because “the people should not be paying out of their taxes for politicians’ careers, especially politicians with whom they disagree.” Ironically, this argument is often made by incumbent politicians with ample access to the big money that flows through New York State’s virtually limitless campaign finance morass. The truth is that public financing of elections is not about supporting one politician or another. It is about supporting a competitive, accountable democratic system of government.</p> <p>The U.S. Supreme Court’s conflation of free spending and free speech, however wrong-headed, legitimizes a long-established maxim. For several thousand years, at least as far back as the Greek playwright Euripides, people have written that money talks...and loudly. Recent investigations of possible campaign finance improprieties in state politics reinforce the point with another: money - like water - finds a path. It can be directed, but not stopped. Big corporations, big labor unions, rich people with big dollars to spend will always seek to find a way to buy an edge. They’re happy to take ownership of our political system; they might even settle for a hefty mortgage. But they have to be channeled away from elections. We need to own our democracy, and own it free and clear. That’s why adopting public financing of elections is essential for New York.</p> <p>***<br />Gerald Benjamin is&nbsp;Director of <a href="http://www.newpaltz.edu/benjamincenter/" target="_blank">the Benjamin Center</a> at SUNY New Paltz (on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/newpaltz" target="_blank">@newpaltz</a>).</p> <p>

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/8168632301_ff89d070a6_z.jpg" width="600" height="450" alt="voting booths elections campaign finance" /></p> <p>(<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/joeshlabotnik/8168632301" target="_blank">photo by</a> Peter Duton)</p> <hr /> <p>My dad Ruby Benjamin worked as a professional basketball player, a New York City cop, a hosiery salesman and, for much of the second half of his life, the owner of a liquor store on West 31 Street, between Broadway and Sixth Avenue. He loved his first two jobs, but liked the last one the best (the sales job was another story entirely.) Twelve hours a day, six days a week in the store was grueling. “But nobody tells me what to do, Jerry,” he’d say to me. “I’m my own boss.”</p> <p>Being the boss brought responsibilities that never came up when you worked for the city or some big company. “It costs money to put the key in the door,” my father said. “You have to cover the overhead.” The heating bill was yours. So was the lighting bill. If you needed pens and pencils and scotch tape you could not bring them home from the office. You had to buy them.</p> <p>But it was worth it, because no one told you what to do.</p> <p>We like to say that our representative democracy is a system in which the people rule; we are the owners of our governments, or ought to be. Ruby has been dead for almost a decade. But lately, as I’ve read daily about one campaign finance scandal after another, I’ve been reminded of his understanding that being the owner meant having to pay the overhead.</p> <p>The cost of fair competitive elections is our heating and lighting bills as citizens of a democracy. Elections are where we exercise our ownership. As owners, we have to pick up the tab. If we let others pay our bills for keeping our system going, we will lose our ownership, and our democracy. Just look around. That’s what’s happening.</p> <p>You will hear from some that elections should be funded with private money, because “the people should not be paying out of their taxes for politicians’ careers, especially politicians with whom they disagree.” Ironically, this argument is often made by incumbent politicians with ample access to the big money that flows through New York State’s virtually limitless campaign finance morass. The truth is that public financing of elections is not about supporting one politician or another. It is about supporting a competitive, accountable democratic system of government.</p> <p>The U.S. Supreme Court’s conflation of free spending and free speech, however wrong-headed, legitimizes a long-established maxim. For several thousand years, at least as far back as the Greek playwright Euripides, people have written that money talks...and loudly. Recent investigations of possible campaign finance improprieties in state politics reinforce the point with another: money - like water - finds a path. It can be directed, but not stopped. Big corporations, big labor unions, rich people with big dollars to spend will always seek to find a way to buy an edge. They’re happy to take ownership of our political system; they might even settle for a hefty mortgage. But they have to be channeled away from elections. We need to own our democracy, and own it free and clear. That’s why adopting public financing of elections is essential for New York.</p> <p>***<br />Gerald Benjamin is&nbsp;Director of <a href="http://www.newpaltz.edu/benjamincenter/" target="_blank">the Benjamin Center</a> at SUNY New Paltz (on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/newpaltz" target="_blank">@newpaltz</a>).</p> <p>

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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