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April 2017


Con Con:
A no no

Susan Rubenstein DeMasi

Let’s call her Elaine.

After receiving her Ph.D. in chemistry in 1976 from a prestigious university, she secured her dream job: teaching at a community college. While some of her classmates went to work in industry, Elaine chose to pursue this path for many reasons, not the least of which was that she began her own education at a community college.

She benefitted, just as our students do now, from a low-cost education as well as the inspiring and highly qualified teachers who helped her along the way.

While Elaine was concerned about her starting salary ($11,000 in 1976, compared to her friends’ initial earnings, which were double that) she put her fears aside, knowing that although she would have to teach extra courses to make ends meet and begin saving for a house, she would at least have a secure retirement to look forward to.

Fast forward to 2017. Elaine is retired. With cautious spending, taking on extra courses through adjunct work over the years and putting money into a supplemental retirement fund, she’s close to paying off her home and can enjoy travel, spending time with her family and other leisure activities.

Will it all be for naught? Her concerns of financial stability from earlier years are dwarfed by the alarm she feels since she heard about the November 2017 referendum on the New York State Constitutional Convention.

The words “Constitutional Convention” (or Con Con) may conjure up images of George Washington, James Madison and other statesmen of yore meeting in Philadelphia. But this potential Constitutional Convention could redraft New York State’s constitution, destroying not just our pension system, which is fiscally sound and fundamentally funds itself, but the fabric of education in our state.

The referendum appears on the ballot every 20 years: “Shall there be a convention to revise the constitution and amend the same?”

According to Ned Hoskin from NYSUT United, “opening up the constitution to haphazard and wholesale changes could alter working conditions, our retirement security and our members' ability to provide a sound and basic education.” Article 5 Section 7, which insures that retirement benefits “shall not be diminished or impaired,” could easily come under attack.

And what’s worse, if voters say “yes” to holding a Con Con, we’d all have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to send delegates—which can include elected officials and politicians, lobbyists, consultants and support staff—to Albany for the duration of the gathering. With 204 delegates getting paid almost $80,000 each, they might have a great party but no one else will be having any fun.

Further, New Yorkers don’t need a Con Con. Change can happen via legislative actions and specific constitutional amendments.

NYSUT is working hard to educate members about these and other pitfalls of a Con Con. Check out the NYSUT United website as well as and take a hard look at this important issue.