A Constitutional Convention Could Radically Reduce Gerrymandering, and Give Your Vote the Punch it Was Designed to Have
While the Benjamin Center at SUNY New Paltz is strictly non-partisan, in one sense its founder, Dr. Gerald Benjamin, is biased—in favor of democracy.
Benjamin says that while the New York State constitution is in need of a serious makeover, the state legislature has shown it won’t do this. Fortunately, however, revision and/or amendment can be achieved in another way. Benjamin explains that the NY State constitution stipulates that every 20 years voters have the right to call a convention to “take the temperature of their government.” Benjamin, who recently debated the merits of a constitutional convention at Siena College and then followed up that debate on Capital Tonight, has multiple insights into why we need the convention as a corrective for failures in state government, especially to reduce the blocking power of entrenched incumbents in Albany.
“We have a representative democracy, not a direct democracy. But we do have this direct democratic mechanism of review—that’s what the convention referendum question is. We get to say, ‘Hmmm, how are my representatives doing?’ I think if you asked most people they’d say, ‘Not very well.’ We have a failure on many levels, from the way laws are made to the failure of our institutions to adapt processes. That’s really no wonder: We haven’t revised the basics of how our government is structured in three quarters of a century.”
Gerald Benjamin, SUNY New Paltz, and Thomas Gais, Rockefeller Institute of Government
Republican Congressmen John Faso wants the federal government to require that New York State assume all of the nonfederal share of Medicaid costs incurred outside of New York City. He conditioned his support for the previous, failed efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare on inclusion of this requirement in the federal law; the Graham-Cassidy bill is said to include the requirement. New York City and the counties now pick up 13 percent of the total state tab ($58.8 billion in Fiscal Year (FY) 2015). The cost for New York City is $5.2 billion. The total at stake for counties outside the city is $2.3 billion. Not chump change.
The proposal outraged Governor Andrew Cuomo. He called it a “political Ponzi scheme,” evidence that the congressman violated “his oath of office to represent the interest of the people of the state of New York.…”
Neither Cuomo’s rage nor the failed GOP takedown of Obamacare has deterred Faso. He has vowed to find another path to force full state assumption of the nonfederal share of Medicaid costs in upstate New York. Indeed, the Sturm und Drang of zero-sum national partisan politics aside, the congressman’s idea may be good public policy, or at least a start towards good policy. But there remain a number of big, unanswered questions. If full state assumption is good for counties outside New York City, why not also for the city itself? Should the national government be dictating the financial relationships a state has with its local governments? And if so, why just for New York?
This post, written by Dr. Gerald Benjamin, was originally published on the Rockefeller Institute of Government’s blog. It is reposted here with permission, click here for the full text.
On March 27, 2017, the Ulster County legislature unanimously passed Resolution 97 authorizing its chairman “… to request the New York State Legislature to commence the process of extending the Ulster County additional sales tax rate of one percent … for at least the twenty-four month period commencing December 1, 2017.” At stake: estimated annual revenue of $23.8 million for the county, $3.2 million for the city of Kingston, and $835,000 for the county’s towns. For the county and the city, these are big numbers. The potential loss of this revenue if the additional taxing authority were not extended would leave a gaping hole in annual operating budgets.
The county’s request was forwarded to eight state legislators with some part of Ulster County in their districts: Senators George A. Amedore, John J. Bonacic, William J. Larkin, Jr., and James L. Seward; and Assemblypersons Kevin A. Cahill, Brian D. Miller, Peter D. Lopez, and Frank K. Skartados. In response, Senator Amadore introduced a bill (S5568) on April 13, 2017, and Assembly Cahill introduced a companion bill (A7409) on April 25, 2017, as requested, to extend additional sales tax collection authority for another two years.
Shortly thereafter, the Ulster County Legislature in Kingston passed a second resolution (Resolution 222) specifically requesting enactment of the Senate and Assembly bills. The county legislature is closely divided politically, but again sponsorship was bipartisan, and the vote was unanimous. County Executive Michael Hein signed off immediately, and the results were sent to both state legislative houses the next day.
This OpEd, written by Gerald Benjamin, was originally published by the Albany Times Union. Full text here.
New Jersey has, against all odds, gotten the U.S. Supreme Court to agree to consider overturning the federal ban on sports betting. If the court does so, some think that allowing sports betting in New York still will require another amendment to the state constitution’s already eviscerated gambling prohibition. But this is not so.
Dramatic incidents of past corruption and fears of the effects of rigged outcomes on sports’ popularity and profitability led in 1992 to a federal ban on sports betting, based upon the national power to regulate interstate commerce. Professional leagues and collegiate associations and conferences were fully supportive. To avoid disrupting the status quo, when the bill was passed exceptions were allowed not only for Nevada — then and still the national sports betting mecca — but also Delaware, Oregon, and Montana, which had in place limited sports-related betting before 1991. (Oregon and Delaware have since forgone their sports–linked lotteries). Another provision envisioned an exception for New Jersey, but that state failed to act to take advantage of it.
As other states legalized casinos and Atlantic City faced intensified competition, New Jersey leaders had a change of heart. In a 2011 referendum, two-thirds of New Jersey voters supported a repeal of the state’s constitutional ban on sports betting in casinos and at racetracks. The next year, sports betting was decriminalized in New Jersey, and two years later authorizing legislation to permit it was passed. But suits by the major sports leagues and the National Collegiate Athletic Association blocked implementation.
Strong college-level support for a sports betting ban persists, but heads of the major professional leagues are rethinking the matter. Big money is at stake for increasingly strapped state governments. Estimates are notoriously problematic, but in New York City alone tens of billions of dollars are thought be illegally wagered annually on sporting events.