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To think about: NYS voters will vote on constitution convention next year
Release Date: May 12, 2016

Today a federal judge sentenced Dean Skelos, the former NY Senate Majority Leader, to 5 years in jail for public corruption. Last week, Sheldon Silver, former Speaker of the Assembly, was sentenced to 12 years for public corruption.  Many other officials in New York State have been arrested, convicted, sentenced to jail for improper conduct over the years.  Many people believe that it is unlikely that ethics reforms will be enacted into law by state officials.

 

New York state voters in 2017 will be asked to vote on whether a constitutional convention should be held. This is an opportunity for actual reform. If New York voters say yes to a constitutional convention, then it would be possible for voters to bypass the Legislature when it comes to campaign-finance reform. It is unlikely that our elected officials in Albany will initiate the changes that are necessary to clean up government. The constitutional convention has the ability to recommend changes and to place them on the ballot. If the voters approve the amendments, change will take place.

 

I suggest that a constitutional convention take the following actions: Prohibit lawmakers at all levels of government in New York state from accepting campaign contributions from those who have applications pending before the government or contracts with the government; prohibit fundraisers in Albany from taking place when the Assembly and Senate are in session; focus on political-action committees; address loopholes; prohibit those who work for state leaders to also do consulting work for those who seek special favors from Albany. It should be noted that the Greenburgh Town Board approved a very strong ethics law in 2007 that prohibits incumbent town officials from receiving campaign contributions from developers, contractors, consultants who have applications or business pending before the town. Our law is considered to be the toughest ethics law in the state—probably the nation. A similar law should be enacted by the state and by the county governments.

The constitution convention option is one option that could lead to reforms.  Another initiative that a constitutional convention could consider: restructuring governments. There are more layers of government in NYS than probably any state in the nation.  If voters approve a constitutional convention  NY government could be reinvented, duplication ended, consolidations of some government entities required. The voters first approve the constitutional convention and then vote yes or no on the changes they recommend. 

 

What do you think? 

 

Paul Feiner

Greenburgh Town Supervisor

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