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Among Syracuse mayoral candidates, Walsh and Hawkins support NY constitutional convention

Syracuse mayoral candidates

When Syracuse mayoral candidates go to vote on Nov. 7, they'll see more than just their names on the ballot.

Perhaps the biggest item in this year's elections is the statewide referendum on whether to hold a New York constitutional convention in 2019 — a question that is posed to voters every 20 years.

Should a majority of voters vote “yes” to a constitutional convention, they would then vote for delegates in the 2018 elections. Those delegates would then go to Albany in the spring of 2019 to discuss whether any provisions in the state’s document of laws and rights need fine-tuning. Any proposed changes would then have to be approved by voters in the 2019 elections in order to be added to the constitution.

The last time the state had a convention was in 1967.

Any changes to the constitution could significantly impact the city of Syracuse and central New York. The decision on whether or not to hold a constitutional convention is split among those seeking Syracuse’s highest office. Independent candidate Ben Walsh and Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins both support a constitutional convention, while Democratic candidate Juanita Perez Williams and Republican candidate Laura Lavine do not.

Walsh said a convention brings the opportunity for the public to push through reforms that have long stalled in the state legislature — like new ethics measures and electoral and criminal justice reforms.

“There are some issues our leaders in Albany just refuse to deal with, and I think there is value in giving the power to the people to enact new laws,” Walsh said.

READ ALSO: Fix New York's government? Some say key is new constitution

Walsh acknowledged the concerns among some in the labor and education communities that a convention could put their protected pensions at risk.

“I have told the unions I will fight against any attempt to take away the rights of working individuals,” Walsh said.

Hawkins also agreed that a convention would be a way to get around lawmakers in Albany, and the benefits a convention could bring to the area.

“State financial responsibility for its mandates on local government — this would resolve the related problems of upstate city, county, and town fiscal distress and highest-in-the-nation property taxes,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins also said that municipal home rule on income taxes, rent control, school governance and minimum wages would help local communities deal best with local issues.

“This would enable Syracuse to institute a progressive tax on incomes of residents, commuters, and absentee landlords alike, so that the city can avoid its pending bankruptcy and has a broader, sustainable, and fairer tax burden,” Hawkins said.

READ ALSO: NY environmental groups: Say no to constitutional convention

Major party candidates Perez Williams and Lavine both have a problem with the infrastructure of a constitutional convention, saying the process would be too expensive and controlled by those in power.

“Convening a constitutional convention would be a waste of taxpayer money and would remove transparency by allowing corporate lobbyists and special interest groups to dictate policy that will be harmful to hardworking men and women,” Perez Williams said.

Lavine also argued that a convention isn’t necessary because the constitution can be amended at any time by regular order.

“A legislative process is the most frequently used process and has been used over 200 times,” Lavine said. “Members of the legislature introduce a bill that requires approval by both houses for two consecutive sessions and voter approval. This process is effective, familiar, and less costly.”

An Oct. 10 poll from Siena College reported that registered New York voters support a constitutional convention by a slim margin — 44 percent to 39 percent — which is down from September. Voters rejected the referendum the last two times it was on the ballot, in 1997 and 1977.

Election Day is Nov. 7.

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