Supporters of a proposed state constitutional convention agreed with opponents of the reform opportunity Thursday that the concept was good, but disagreed on how it should proceed.
The forum by the Assembly Republican Constitutional Convention Study Group was held in the Performing Arts Center at Buffalo State College.
Study group co-chairman Robert Oaks, an assemblyman from the Finger Lakes region, said it was called to get input from experts and activists before voters must choose on Election Day.
Speakers on the pro side of the debate included representatives from the All County Taxpayers Association, Canisius College and the Greater Buffalo Partnership.
They agreed that a constitutional convention was the only way to address and remedy many of the problems in New York State that the current Legislature has been unable or unwilling to resolve.
"The state government is dysfunctional," said Peter J. Galie, a political science professor at Canisius. "It needs reform. The Legislature will not address the real issues. I do not understand why someone like the League of Women Voters and the CSEA (Civil Service Employees Association) do not get behind this convention and allow the people of this state to be heard."
Spokesmen from the League of Women Voters of New York State, the CSEA and Change-NY, a conservative taxpayers group, said they were not opposed to a constitutional convention as such. But they questioned whether the people of the state would be represented or if the delegates to the convention would be employees of the political system, members of private interest groups or lobbyists.
"We don't need a constitutional convention," said Florence Tripi, vice president of Region 6, CSEA. "We all know New York State has a problem and it is not working well. But we have a process in place, the legislative process, and that is the best way to make change.
"There will be 198 delegates to that convention and the leadership of that convention will be the same you see now in the Legislature. They will be people with money and recognition," she said.
Robert Schulz, president of the All County Taxpayers Association, countered that conflict of interests will be addressed and delegate candidates would be required to sign a form disclosing any affiliations or employment they might have.
"The voters will not be blind to anyone that is connected with politics, running for some other office, or working for a private interest group," he said.
To hold a once-every-20-years constitutional convention, voters must approve holding a convention and then elect delegates who would either propose a series of amendments to the existing constitution or draft an entirely new document.