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Vote yes on proposition one Necessary Constitution wording change clarifies existing help for disabled vets

The first thing to say about Proposal Number One on the New York ballot Tuesday is that voters should approve it. The second thing to say about Proposal Number One is that it shouldn't have to be on the New York ballot.

It's only because New York has such an unbelievably long and complex Constitution -- more than 50,000 words, not counting the index -- that the people must vote to approve a measure that should have been on the Legislature's no-brainer list.

Proposal Number One is evidence that the New York Constitution needs a major haircut.

The proposal, the only referendum on the statewide ballot this year, would continue the practice of awarding a few extra points to disabled veterans of the U.S. armed services when they take the civil service exam for state and local government jobs. The change is necessary because the Constitution of the State of New York specifies that veterans who are drawing war-related disability payments from the U.S. Veterans Administration get an extra five points on a test to get a public job and 2 1/2 points on the test for a promotion.

What's wrong with that? Just that there's no such thing as the Veterans Administration any more. Since 1989, it has been the Department of Veterans Affairs, a separate Cabinet-level agency. Besides, some vets get their checks from the Department of Defense instead.

Changing the wording is a bureaucratic detail that should have been done a long time ago by the Legislature or, perhaps, by simple executive order, in a government that was logically run.

But with so many details laid down in the Constitution, it had to go through the constitutional amendment process. In New York, that means having the proposed amendment approved by the Legislature -- twice -- and then by the voters.

The risk is that such simple and necessary changes might not get through the high bar of two rounds of legislative approval. And, once put before the voters, they might be rejected by an electorate that, understandably, is leery of approving something it has never heard of before, especially with the usually confusing wording of a ballot proposition.

The same Constitution that requires all this folderol also provides that, once every 20 years, the people will be asked if they want to call a constitutional convention to rewrite the whole blinking thing. The next such referendum must come in 2017, unless the Legislature issues such a call sooner.

Such a convention would be complicated and risky. All kinds of mischief might be done in the name of constitutional reform. But nothing would be final without the voters' approval, and the creaking and overweight New York Constitution clearly needs to be slimmed down.

Proposal Number One is Exhibit One in that argument.

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