Proposition One on New York’s ballot, which asks voter whether there should be a Constitutional Convention, is getting a lot of attention, with TV ads and social media posts. But there are two other proposals for voters to consider.
Proposition Two would modify the state’s constitution to allow judges the discretion to strip the pensions from some elected officials convicted of felonies. It was prompted by a corruption crime wave that’s hit the state Capitol in recent years, and resulted in dozens of arrests, indictments, convictions and imprisonments.
The Assembly sponsor of the measure, David Buchwald of Westchester, says currently, the state’s constitution protects the pensions of all state officials elected before 2011, even if they are convicted of crimes.
“Right now, no matter how heinous the crime is that’s connected to their office, they're still entitled to their full state pension,” Buchwald said.
The proposed change to the constitution would only apply, though, to crimes committed by state officials, after January 1, 2018. It would not apply to the two former legislative leaders who continue to face legal action on charges of bribery and arranging no show jobs for relatives. It would also not be applicable to nine former associates of Governor Andrew Cuomo, including a former top aide. Eight are scheduled to face trial in the spring, one has already pleaded guilty to charges.
Jennifer Wilson of the League of Women Voters, says she’s disappointed that the proposal is limited.
“The question on the ballot is a little bit confusing, it doesn’t quite make that clear, that this isn’t retroactive,” said Wilson. “We just want to make sure that voters do know it doesn’t go back quite as far as it sounds like it does.”
Nevertheless, the League of Women Voters is one of several government reform groups supporting the proposal.
Assemblyman Buchwald says while he would like the ballot measure to apply to alleged crimes committed in the past, federal laws prevent that.
“As much as I’d like to turn back the clock,” Buchwald said. “We’re not permitted, under the federal constitution, to increase the penalties for past crimes.”
A state law passed six years ago allows a judge to revoke the pension of a public official convicted of committing a felony, who took office in 2012 or later.
Blair Horner, with the New York Public Interest Research Group, says the ballot proposal really affects just a small subset of public officials - those who took office before 2011, and who commit crimes after January 2018. But he says it’s worth approving the measure anyway.
“It’s sort of like chicken soup, it can’t hurt,” Horner said.
There is no organized opposition to the pension forfeiture proposal.
And there are also no opponents of Proposition Three. It creates a creates a land “bank” of 250 acres to ease construction and repairs along roadways that are currently hamstrung due to strict land use rules in the forest preserves. Small amounts of land could be withdrawn from the land bank and used for the road maintenance and repairs, or to add cable lines for internet access.
David Gibson, with Adirondack Wild, says it’s a compromise resulting from negotiations between environmental groups and local government leaders in the Adirondacks and Catskills. All are backing the proposal.
“It took two years,” Gibson said.
He says without the proposal, every small modification to a state, county or town road in the parks requires a separate statewide ballot amendment.
All of the propositions will appear on page two of the ballot. Supporters of Proposals Two and Three say their biggest worry is that voters will forget to turn over their ballots to vote on the proposals.