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Limit Albany’s control of reform, good-gov’t advocates say

ALBANY — New Yorkers angry at Albany will soon have the chance to impose term limits, take away state pensions from those convicted of corruption, end legislators’ ability to collect six-figure outside incomes and other measures long opposed in the Legislature. But they will have to go through legislators to do it.

Good-government advocates agreed Tuesday it was a quintessential Albany Catch-22, where big reforms under current law can only happen if those who would be reformed agree.

The League of Women Voters and the New York Public Interest Research Group on Tuesday pushed to limit the ability of government leaders to become delegates to a 2017 constitutional convention in which they could double their pay and increase their pension benefits while considering reform proposals.

“It’s tricky,” said Blair Horner of NYPIRG. “In order to fix Albany, Albany’s political establishment would have to agree because it’s likely a constitutional convention would be dominated by legislators.”

The state constitution requires that voters get a chance to hold a convention to change the state constitution every 20 years. In 1997, voters rejected the idea because of rules that would allow legislators and other elected officials as well as public employee unions and other special interests to run the show. Delegates earn the pay of a legislator -- now $79,500 a year but soon to rise -- for up to three years’ work. Even some good-government groups said that under those rules more harm could come from good. Voters rejected holding a 1997 convention.

Those rules are in still in place today if voters agree to hold a constitutional convention in 2017.

“Voters felt that was a scam,” said Barbara Bartoletti of the League of Women Voters, “that legislators could do their own bidding.”

Under current law, legislators can’t be banned from running to be a delegate to a constitutional convention. Only a constitutional convention could ban elected officials from serving as delegates, and that could only be effective beginning in the constitutional convention 20 years later, Horner said.

If voters agree to hold a 2017 convention, its 204 delegates could address long-stalled ethics reforms, but could also take on other major issues including environmental protection, education reform, abortion, public financing of campaigns, and enact same-day voter registration to stem a decline in turnout at elections.

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