Friday, October 9, 2009

State Constitutional Convention? No Way!

Assemblyman Brian Kolb recently introduced legislation calling for a constitutional convention to address certain matters. He's been pushing it in newspaper essays around the state. There's a website, full of noble purpose, at

Locally, journalist Chris Wilmot pushed the idea in the Smugtown Beacon earlier this week, citing all the right reasons for having a convention.

Convention backers should relax.   A constitutional convention is never, ever going to happen in New York.  At least not in the lifetime of anyone reading this.

That's because to have a convention requires a vote of the state legislature.   The state legislature is the source, the guardian and protector, of all of the problems that make a constitutional convention necessary.   It would never vote away its power to preserve New York's unique and debilitating status quo.

Aristocracies and oligarchies do not cede power voluntarily.  The state legislature is wholly-owned by New York's aristocracy:   public employee unions and a host of other special interest groups forming the core of support for the state Democratic Party.   An aristocracy to which Republicans in Albany, especially the State Senate, have been sucking up for decades.

The rest of the populace works to support the aristocracy, as in feudal times. Which is exactly what New Yorkers do, paying among the highest taxes in the country.

The public employee unions spent millions in anti-convention TV advertising the last time it came up on the ballot in 1997.   They won.

So it comes down to this:   if New York had the kind of legislature that would allow a constitutional convention, we wouldn't need a constitutional convention.   And, conversely, as long as we need a constitutional convention, we'll never get one.

Besides, any constitutional convention the legislature might approve would include current state legislators as delegates, and therefore would be a presumptive fraud.

No.   The only way out for us is for the counties of western New York to coordinate and organize, draw up a plan of self-government, and apply to the federal government for statehood, citing the West Virginia precedent.  

Supporters of such an effort of course will be ridiculed in the traditional media as extremists, for the sin of wanting jobs, and wanting to to live in a place with policies more like the 49 other states.

In any event, the effort would have to wait for a Republican congress.   Because New York is the model of where national Democrats are now trying to drag the rest of the country.   Wanting out of the poisonous brew of New York's state policies is an implicit rebuke to what national Democrats hold dear.

Until this happens, western New York remains, in economic terms, the Cuba of the United States:   a dead economy, frozen in time.


Rottenchester said...

I'm disgusted by both parties in the Lej, and I agree with your not-gonna-happen analysis on the constitutional amendment.

But -- here's the question secessionists never seem to answer to my satisfaction. Isn't WNY a net winner in the distribution scheme in New York? In other words, for every dollar we send to the state, don't we get a good deal more than $1 back?

If so, why would we want to secede?

Also, even if we could magically wave away the current state government and put a new, more functional one in charge, we'd still have to deal with the county and town governments around here, many of which are not great models of efficiency.

The whole secession discussion seems like a distraction to me.

Philbrick said...

The point is:

1. To get out from under the policies that cause us to send all those dollars to Albany in the first place. Setting up Medicaid as it works in nearly all the other states, rather than the hyper-expensive New York model is just one example.

2. To get out from under the policies that cause the cost of local government to be unnecessarily and unreasonably high. Two examples are the Wicks law, that adds mightily to the cost of publicly-funded buildings, and the Taylor Law, whose binding arbitration provision takes totally out of the control of elected officials their single greatest operating expense: employee costs.

3. To get out from under the state policies that make the cost of doing business here the highest in the country outside of Hawaii, thereby jump-starting the economy and allowing for creation of jobs. With the right policies, we can have in-migration replacing the mass exodus that's been a fact of life for years.

The net result would be that western New York would be economically, at least in terms of the costs of governmental services, on a plane with the other states, nearly all of which are more prosperous than we are now.

Rottenchester said...

I believe you're a native New Yorker. I'm not. I'm from a small town in the Dakotas, and let me tell you, it just isn't the Wicks law, the Taylor law, state policies and Medicaid that cause the high taxes around here. Western New Yorkers -- Republican or Democrat -- expect a level of government service and government involvement far beyond that expected in, say, the Plains or Inter-Mountain West (to pick two places where I've lived).

I pay far more in town and school taxes, and income tax, than I would out West. But the level of service I receive here is far beyond that in the West. Schools in Pittsford are world-class. The town services I receive in Pittsford are far beyond the services out West. People here expect much, much more from government than is expected out there.

The costs of government services are a two-way street. Waste is part of it, but responding to the demands/expectations of the population is the other part. Western New Yorkers expect a hell of a lot from government, and I don't see how secession alone will address that.