This post, written by Gerald Benjamin, was originally published by the Gotham Gazette. It is reposted here with permission, click here for the full text.
When asked what a state constitutional convention might cost if called by voters in 2017, I said at a State Bar Association panel event that I had applied the Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI inflator to what I then thought was the 1967 convention’s cost and got $47 million. Casey Seiler of the Albany Times Union was there. He did not hear or realize that I had adjusted for inflation, so he used the $47 million figure as the cost of the 1967 convention. This led others to then adjust for inflation based on that number, leading to the proliferation of a faulty projected cost of $350 million, immediately seized upon by convention opponents. (Seiler later published a correction.)
The Public Employees Federation wrote: “Experts estimate a constitutional convention would cost hundreds of millions of dollars.” Senator Majority Leader John Flanagan used it as evidence that a convention would be outrageously expensive, with no “guarantee” of any positive result. The wildly wrong number repeatedly popped up in media outlets all over the state. Even after shown the error of their ways in debates, opponents were loath to give up this ‘alternative fact.’ All of this was chronicled by Bill Mahoney as an urban legend in Politico New York.
Since then a leading convention advocate, Chris Bopst, went back to the state comptroller’s actual spending records. He found that between 1967 and 1971 a total of $7,580,885 was spent on preparing for and conducting the last constitutional convention. Of this, $527,051 ($3,977,673 in 2017 dollars) was for a preparatory commission. We haven’t had one of those this time; the Legislature killed it. This leaves $7,053,834, spent over a total of four years. In 2017 dollars this is $51,448,160, not far off (8.6%) from my original more-or-less shot in the dark of $47 million.
ON LOCAL GOVERNMENT: Exploring Municipal Charters and Reform
A public educational forum presented by KingstonCitizens.org
Moderated by Co-Founder Rebecca Martin
This event will be filmed.
Thursday, July 13th, 2017
5:30pm – 7:30pm
Kingston Public Library
55 Franklin Street
Kingston, NY 12401
With very special guests:
DR. GERALD BENJAMIN
Associate Vice President for Regional Engagement
SUNY at New Paltz
JENNIFER SCHWARTZ BERKY
Ulster County Legislature and
Hone Street Strategic
A municipal charter is the “basic document that defines the organization, powers, functions and essential procedures of the city government. It is comparable to the Constitution of the United States or a state’s constitution. The charter is, therefore, the most important legal document of any city”
Join KingstonCitizens.org as we explore the function of a Municipal or City Charter’: What are they? Why do communities adopt or revise them? What are the basic forms of government under Charters, and more.
A question and answer period will follow.
The Alms House in Kingston is a handsome building. It is a testimonial to the city’s compassion, its commitment to the poor and to the idea of inclusion and community. It is very special that the proposed repurposing of the building sustains its use in accord with a redefined but still strongly identifiable social mission. Too many such buildings have been demolished or allowed to fall into disarray in our county – e.g. The Ulster County Poorhouse in New Paltz – diminishing our connection to our historic legacy. This wonderful city hall in which we meet today manifest’s Kingston’s understanding of the value of preserving its great architecture as working spaces, experienced and employed. You need to act again in accord with those values.
The social purpose of the proposed use of the Alms House – a building I know well from its time as a home for county offices – is essential and extraordinarily challenging. The need – still largely unmet – for affordable housing in our county and especially in Kingston is well documented in several studies, cited on the RUPCO website and confirmed by work we are doing in our research center at SUNY New Paltz now. The excessive proportion of income renters must spend for housing draws resources from other essential daily family needs – like food and clothing – diminishing their quality of life and opportunities for their children. Continue reading
Robin Jacobowitz, Director of Education Projects, The Benjamin Center
KT Tobin, Associate Director, The Benjamin Center
Officials at the New York State Education Department (NYSED) just announced that, beginning in the 2017-18 school year, the ELA and math tests for grades 3-8 will be administered over two days for each subject, instead of three. The one third reduction of the traditional six days of testing for ELA and math combined, to four days, is a step in the right direction.
We demonstrated in our 2015 study titled Time on Test that the three-day administration meant that students were sitting for these tests for approximately 9 hours; the total time lost to instruction rose to approximately 19 hours when administration of the tests was factored in. We commend the NYSED and Regents for listening to, and then acting on, a primary concern of parents regarding the testing: that students are sitting too long for tests and that valuable instructional time is lost.
But we believe that there is a way to shorten even further the length of time dedicated to testing and restore the opportunity for instruction that is lost due to it. We have argued previously that the NYS 3-8 assessments are not needed for individual student evaluation. NYS school districts assess children throughout the school year in Common Core-aligned curriculum. This allows students’ strengths and weaknesses to be identified – and acted upon – in a timely fashion during that school year. Parents, teachers, and students receive this information, and respond to it, all year long. The purpose of the NYS 3-8 assessments, then, should be to measure institutional performance, to provide school and district based accountability.
There will be a statewide referendum question on the ballot this fall – required every 20 years – asking New Yorkers whether we should call a state constitutional convention. Our Jacksonian forbearers, the 19th century leaders who provided us with this regular opportunity to review the fundamentals of our governance, proceeded with a profound faith in democracy. Theirs was a very American – a very New York – belief in the possibility for progress and improvement.
The decision to provide this opportunity was realized in practice. During the 19th century conventions were routinely called once in a generation – in 1801, 1821, 1846, 1867, and 1894 – to revise, renew, and reform the way New York State was governed. From any single value perspective, the results were not pristine, but each time a convention convened our forbearers were, in some measure, affirmed in their faith in democracy.
In the 20th century we had 3 conventions: in 1915 and 1938 called by the people, and 1967, called by the legislature. All did, or proposed, some good things. But then we stopped. The half century since our last convention is the longest without such a gathering in New York State history.
This post, written by Dr, Gerald Benjamin, was originally published in Rockefeller Institute of Government’s blog. It is reposted here with permission.
After receiving a consultant’s report that the town’s highway garage was unsafe and near collapse, the governing board of the northeastern Onondaga County town of Cicero voted earlier this year to replace it. The estimated cost was $9,894,353. The decision had been avoided in the past, the need was great, leadership was willing, and the time seemed as ripe as it was likely to get. Town finances had been stabilized; Cicero is not among localities identified by the state comptroller as under “fiscal stress.” Interest rates are still low, especially for municipalities.
The plan was to borrow the money for the garage over 30 years. The average price for a house bought in Cicero in 2015 was $175,696. Without figuring in recent effects of changes in values, the annual tax impact of the project after the first year on this average priced house would come to $42 annually (about an initial 4 percent increase in a homeowner’s yearly town taxes). Things seemed all set. Continue reading
Guest post from Michael O’Donnell, Vice President of the New Paltz Central School District Board of Education and the Chair of the Board’s Legislative Action Committee
“Every aspect of the Regents reform agenda is aimed at ensuring that more New York State students graduate college and career ready. We have adopted more rigorous Common Core standards and are aligning our assessments with those standards…”
That claim, made by then Senior Deputy Commissioner of Education and future US Secretary of Education John King is the subject of the Benjamin Center’s latest discussion brief: “NY State Assessments: Faulty Predictions, Real Consequences.”
Check out Dr. Eve Waltermaurer, The Benjamin Center’s Director of Research and Evaluation, discussing the results of our Women@Work’s View on Women Poll, released just in time for our NYS Women’s Right to Vote Centennial Conference!
Guest post from Despina Williams Parker, Staff Assistant for the SUNY New Paltz Dean of Liberal Arts & Sciences
This article was originally posted in the Liberal Arts & Sciences Spring Newsletter.
At the age of 5, Natassia Velez set her sights on a leadership role even more demanding than kindergarten class line leader. She had the will, the desire and the smarts. But when she boldly announced her intentions to become the president of the United States, she heard not encouragement, but laughter.
As she got older and prominent female politicians like Hillary Clinton emerged, Velez noticed a change in others’ response to her political aspirations. “People started realizing that it was more plausible for a female to be president, so they stopped laughing,” she said.
Now a senior international relations major, Velez enrolled in this spring’s “Women and Politics” course to learn more about the “barriers and pathways” for women like herself who hope to enter the political arena. Her experience so far has been both eye-opening and empowering.
Led by Kathleen Dowley, an associate professor of political science and director of the Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies Program, and KT Tobin, associate director of the Benjamin Center and sociology lecturer, the course’s first team-taught iteration offers an expansive look at the cultural, institutional and economic barriers to, as well as the opportunities for, women’s political participation in the U.S and around the globe.
Guest post from Tom Cetrino, a SUNY New Paltz Political Science alum and member of The Benjamin Center’s Advisory Board
Recently enacted legislation (A3009C/S2009C Part BBB) included a revision of Governor Cuomo’s proposal to require each county outside of New York City to prepare a plan for further sharing of service delivery responsibilities among local governments contained within the county. Each county is required to have a shared services panel that must include the chief executive of the county (typically the County Executive) who will serve as the chair, and the mayor or supervisor of every town, city, and village in the county. Additionally, the county may elect to include school districts, BOCES, and special improvement districts on the panel and in the plan.
The plan must demonstrate new recurring property tax savings by eliminating or consolidating duplicative local government services. In preparing the plan, the county must consult and seek input from the shared services panel and each collective bargaining unit with members working for the entities represented on the panel as well as community, business and civic leaders. At least three public hearings must be held on the plan.