ALBANY — Voters get their turn Tuesday to decide if a constitutional convention should be convened to overhaul state government, if politicians convicted of corruption should potentially lose their pensions, and if slivers of forest land in the Adirondacks and Catskills can be used for widened roads and bicycle paths.
The three questions will be on the back of ballots statewide on Tuesday.
Proposal 1 asks voters whether to hold a constitutional convention that could change how state government operates, spends and borrows. It has been the focus of a $2 million advertising and promotion campaign.
Those who support a convention say dramatic action is required to reform Albany’s ethical behavior as well as to address issues such as New York’s high taxes, unequal funding of schools, and the influence of big-money donors in campaigns.
Opponents say the potential benefit is outweighed by the danger that special interests could alter the constitution on hot-button issues such as abortion and gun control, environmental protection and the guarantee of state pensions to unionized public workers and teachers.
Other issues commonly mentioned in public forums included being able to register to vote on election days, requiring public votes for all borrowing; and legalization of marijuana for nonmedical use.
If approved, three delegates would be elected from each of 63 State Senate districts and 15 at-large members would be chosen in November 2018. The convention would convene in April 2019. Any recommendations would still need to be approved by voters on Election Day in 2019.
A diverse group of interest groups that include each side of the abortion debate as well as environmental groups all funded by public worker and teacher unions seeks a “no” vote. Most of Albany’s incumbent officials also oppose a convention. A group of good-government advocates and some retired judges and state officials support a convention.
“The rhetoric on both sides is what I heard 20 years ago, which was hope that a convention could fix what ails Albany and a fear that important provisions of the state constitution would be put needlessly at risk,” said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research, which is neutral on the question.
The two other questions on ballot have no organized opposition.
Proposition 2 would create a process under which an elected or policymaking state or local government official convicted of corruption charges could lose his or her state pension. If approved, a court hearing would be held and a judge would decide whether to reduce or eliminate the convicted official’s pension. The judge would have to consider whether the forfeiture of pension would create an undue hardship on the official’s family.
Proposition 3 would create a process to encroach on forest preserves to widen roads, address bridge hazards, protect drinking water and do other public safety projects “where no viable alternative exists.” The amount of land that could be used would be limited to a total of 250 acres and could include areas in the Adirondack and Catskill state parks.
The measure would also allow bicycle paths to be built within the widths of highways, but would allow for stabilization devices to be installed to existing utility poles if needed to accommodate the bike path.