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STATE CONSTITUTION IS IN DESPERATE NEED OF REFORM

The state's budget troubles provide another reason why New Yorkers should vote "yes" when asked in November whether to call a convention to revise and amend the state constitution.

The current state constitution provides no deadline by which the budget must be in place. But it does contain a "crucial" provision detailing intricate requirements for charitable groups administering games of chance.

If voters don't approve the constitutional convention, they will place the fate of our state constitution back into the hands of a State Legislature that has demonstrated an unwillingness to provide meaningful change. Consider these two examples:

To prevent the accumulation of excessive state debt by the Legislature, the New York Constitution contains strict limitations on incurring debt.

The Legislature has circumvented these limitations through devices such as public authorities and moral obligation bonds. Many investors hold bonds guaranteed only by a "moral obligation" on the part of the state. None of these moral obligations have been approved by the voters. When the Legislature finally proposed a constitutional amendment in 1995 to revise the borrowing section, the failure of lawmakers to provide strict limitations on borrowing led to an overwhelming defeat at the polls.

In 1995, an amendment to the state constitution made the suffrage article consistent with federal voting requirements. It was a little late. The state constitution gave voting rights to citizens over 21 who had resided in the state for three months and could, "except for physical disability, read and write English."

But the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, adopted in 1971, had made 18 the voting age for all elections. The Supreme Court had ruled that residency requirements cannot exceed 30 days. And literacy tests were made illegal by the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Former United States Supreme Court Justice Tom Clark said, "Nothing can destroy a government more quickly than its failure to observe its own laws, or worse, its disregard of the charter of its own existence."

Why should a progressive state like New York continue to operate under a charter that can be easily circumvented or, worse yet, provides an inaccurate depiction of existing law? A constitutional convention is an effective way of solving these problems.

Contrary to the assertions of opponents, constitutional conventions in New York have not provided a summit for radicals wishing to alter the entire political landscape. Rather, analyses have shown these processes to be cautious and deliberative.

The New York Constitution is in need of much revision. History has shown that the Legislature is unwilling to provide the reform the state so desperately needs. The only alternative is a constitutional convention.

However, if voters don't approve the convention in November, they may not get another opportunity until 2017, the next year the question is required to be placed on the ballot.

Christopher Bopst Cheektowaga

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