Progressive Groups Warn Against Constitutional Convention

A coalition of progressive groups including the NYCLU and Legal Aid Society announced its opposition to a ballot measure on Nov. 7 that asks whether New Yorkers should hold a convention to revise and amend the state constitution next year. Opponents such as Fiscal Policy Institute and New Yorkers Against Corruption, fear it could set the stage for rolling back protections and rights such as public-sector pension guarantees and legal protections for immigrants and the poor.

“We have far more to lose than we have to gain,” said Ron Deutsch, executive director of the labor-backed Fiscal Policy Institute. “We think this is a recipe for disaster.”


Access full article HERE

Progressives Urge “No” Vote on Constitutional Convention

October 30, 2017. A group of progressive organizations, on Monday, gathered to voice their opposition to holding a constitutional convention, which voters will decide on Nov. 7.

“We have far more to lose than we have to gain,” said Ron Deutsch, executive director of the labor-backed Fiscal Policy Institute. “We think this is a recipe for disaster.”


Access full article HERE


Ron Deutsch and Susan Welber Urge No Vote on the Constitutional Convention Question

October 30, 2017. There is just over a week left until New Yorkers head to the polls. Ron Deutsch, Executive Director of the Fiscal Policy Institute, and Susan Welber, Staff Attorney at The Legal Aid Society, weighed in on why they are urging a no vote on Ballot Question One, the Constitutional Convention Question.


Access to the full podcast can be found HERE.

Congestion Pricing “vs.” Millionaire’s Tax: Why Not Do Both?

October 30, 2017.

Here’s a story you don’t hear every day: in the latest spat between Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor De Blasio, both of them are right. Congestion pricing, the governor’s proposal, and a surcharge to the millionaire’s tax, the mayor’s proposal, are both good ideas.

The not-so-secret feuding between the governor and the mayor has not served New Yorkers well. From the serious to the petty, the two Democrats don’t seem to be able to get along about much. But, in their dueling proposals to provide much-needed funding to improve New York City’s transit system, they should get over their differences and say yes to both ideas.

The Mayor’s proposal is straightforward: increase the income tax on people who can most easily bear it, and who benefit from the city’s having a functioning public transit system whether or not they use it themselves. The governor called the mayor’s proposal “dead on arrival.” Well, the proposal would be looking a whole lot healthier if the state’s highest official were giving it a boost rather than trashing the idea.

The mayor’s proposal would generate revenue for transit upgrades, and also for “fair fares,” half-price subway entrance for low-income New Yorkers.

Meantime, Governor Cuomo has suggested revisiting the idea of congestion pricing on the bridges and tunnels coming into Manhattan, but the mayor says he does not believe in congestion pricing. That’s too bad. Congestion pricing is a good idea whose time has come. The governor hasn’t put out a specific proposal yet, but the general idea is to put a higher price on coming through the city’s bridges and tunnels at peak hours, and a lower price in off-peak times.

By giving drivers an incentive to use the crossings before or after rush hour, the bridges and tunnels would be used more efficiently and with less extreme backups at the entrances. And, of course, the funds raised would support the public transportation that would give at least some drivers a viable alternative to taking their cars into Manhattan.

Mayor De Blasio has said he’s concerned that congestion pricing could disproportionately hurt low-income New York City residents. But a new report from the Community Service Society shows just the opposite. Low-income New Yorkers would disproportionately gain from congestion pricing that raised revenue for mass transit, and the costs would be primarily paid by those who can afford it most.

The study shows that only a small fraction of people living in the outer boroughs of New York City would find their commutes affected by the toll: four percent of the working people who live in the outer boroughs, and two percent of working poor. Many outer-borough residents have jobs in places other than Manhattan, and the large majority of those who do work in Manhattan come by public transportation. Overall, 118,000 people could wind up paying the toll. Of those, more than half are higher-income residents and over a quarter have moderate-income. Twelve percent are near poor, and four percent—5,000 people—are below the poverty line. (Near-poor is between the poverty line and double that income level; moderate income is between 200 and 400 percent of the poverty line; higher income is above that level.)

By contrast, 2.2 million New York City residents rely on public transit to get to work, including 190,000 working poor. If the system invested in fair fares, those 190,000 people would be able to take advantage of half-price subway rides.

We shouldn’t ignore the 5,000 working people living in poverty who could face an increase in the toll, some of whom do not have good alternatives for getting to work. But adding a cost or inconvenience for them is a tradeoff that makes sense considering the very substantial benefits to so many New Yorkers, including the benefit to a far larger number of working poor living in the outer boroughs.

The mayor should listen to his own appointee to the MTA board, David Jones, the president of the Community Service Society, which produced this report, and help explain that it disproportionately benefits lower-income New Yorkers.

And the governor should wake up to the urgency of funding to maintain and expand public transportation while keeping it affordable, and embrace the ideas of a millionaire’s tax and half-price fares for the lowest-income riders.

Maybe working together, these two Democrats could get more done in this state than by working at odds with each other.

Just saying.


By: David Dyssegaard Kallick



A Constitutional Convention – A Risk NOT Worth Taking

A Constitutional Convention – A Risk NOT Worth Taking

Ron Deutsch, Fiscal Policy Institute

The New York Constitution articulates the legal rights of New Yorkers, and in many vital areas, provides our residents more protections than the U.S. Constitution. A Constitutional Convention is an expensive, complicated and potentially dangerous undertaking that is unnecessary because we already have a more rigorous and more democratic process by which the voters can adopt or reject individual amendments to the State Constitution on their individual merits rather than being presented with the kinds of omnibus “mixed bag” packages that were advanced by virtually all of New York’s past constitutional conventions.

On this November’s general election ballot, for example, two specific amendments will be before the voters of the state for their approval or disapproval.  One of these amendments would allow judges to reduce or revoke the pension of a public official convicted of a felony related to his or her official duties, thus also serving to refute the claim of convention advocates that the state legislature is unable to police itself.

A Constitutional Convention, on the other hand, would allow for a complete rewriting of the entire constitution putting crucial rights and protections at risk and offering the voters “packages” that combine positive and negative proposals. For example, New York’s 1967 Convention offered property taxpayers the chance to vote for the state takeover of the local costs of Medicaid. However, in order to achieve that change they would also have had to accept the gutting of the mandate to provide aid to the needy, the elimination of the requirement for voter approval of state bond issues and the elimination of the Blaine Amendment and many other proposals –some attractive and some unattractive to particular voters. Constitutional Conventions, by their very nature, have always proposed too many changes for each change to be voted on individually — and they likely always will.

For virtually all New Yorkers, there is simply more to lose than to gain by holding a Constitutional Convention. New York’s voters should not be put in a position of having to approve decreases in some protections in order to gain increases in some others – even if, on some philosopher king’s scale, more rights and protections were gained than were lost.  Amending the state constitution should not be a game of give and take; and that’s why we oppose a Constitutional Convention.

While the idea of a Constitutional Convention might sound great in the abstract, the process for who gets chosen to take part in the convention gives an overwhelming advantage to those with either established name recognition or access to lots of money. In this era of Citizens United, we know that money influences politics and that some hedge fund managers and other billionaires have extreme conservative views and are willing to spends endless amounts of money to push their ideological agenda.

Quite simply, no New York State Constitutional Convention has ever been a “people’s convention” and one established this year will not be a “people’s convention” either despite some of the claims to the contrary.

The delegate selection process basically ensures that “average” citizens will not get a seat at the table. Three delegates would be elected from each of the state’s 63 heavily gerrymandered Senate districts and 15 at large delegates would be elected from the state as a whole. Just to get on the ballot for one of the Senate District seats, as an independent, will officially take up to 3,000 signatures of registered voters who live in that Senate district but in reality potential candidates will need to collect far more signatures in order to ensure that they will survive challenges to the validity of their petition signatures. At large delegates are required to collect 15,000 signatures.

Elected officials, past and present, have a significant advantage in getting elected because of name recognition, but also because the numbers of signatures required for political party nominations is smaller than is required for independent nominations and these individuals have the assistance of their party’s political party organizations in obtaining the necessary signatures. They also have incentive to do so. Convention delegates would be paid the same amount as state legislators, which means that current legislators elected as delegates would double their pay and benefits in 2019 – from the current level of $79,500 to at least $159,000.

What’s At Risk?

We all know the laws of New York State can stand improvement.  But is a Constitutional Convention the best path to reform?  Can anyone guarantee that powerful political interests will protect our most fundamental and enlightened legal principles and protection?  Are we sure that even the best intentions won’t have harmful unintended consequences?

Some issues of concern:

 Public Education – A system of “free common schools, where all the children of this state may be educated,” is protected in our constitution. Advocates of religious and private education are constantly pushing for state taxpayers to pay for schools whose primary purpose is religious, not secular, instruction.  They call for direct appropriations to churches and yeshivas, insidious and indirect funding such as school vouchers, and allowing the wealthy to pay taxes directly to religious institutions.  Our Constitution’s Blaine amendment acts as a check on tax dollars for religious instruction, but it will be under direct attack in a Convention (as it was during the last convention).

 Affordable Housing – Finding safe affordable housing can be a challenge, fortunately, Article XVIII, Section 1 of the state constitution protects rental housing for people with low incomes. A Constitutional Convention could restrict access to affordable housing and could also potentially threaten rent control laws in New York State. There are approximately 35 states that prohibit local municipalities from implementing rent control laws, which if implemented in New York, would create an affordable housing crisis even greater than the one we have now. Article XVII also protects the right to shelter for all New Yorkers.

 Immigrant Protection – New York State, a self-declared sanctuary for immigrants, uses rigorous standards when assessing whether or not a law is discriminatory. This higher standard is critical as our federal government increases the detention and deportation of law-abiding undocumented immigrants. The most recent federal action rescinding DACA, the federal program that protected more than 800,000 young, undocumented immigrants from deportation and allowed them to work legally in the United States, shows the need for this additional protection.

 Care for the Needy– Article XVII of the state constitution requires New York to care for those in need: “The aid, care and support of the needy are public concerns and shall be provided by the state….” Given the federal push to dismantle programs and services for our poorest citizens, New Yorkers cannot afford to put this provision at risk. Article XVII has been effectively used in numerous court challenges to ensure that the needs of New York’s most vulnerable citizens are met, including immigrants and others excluded from the federal safety net.

 Retirement Benefits – The state constitution protects public pensions from being “diminished or impaired.” This means that people who have worked for years providing vital public services can be confident their pension will be there when they need it. Without this constitutional protection, state and local pension funds could be raided like a piggybank to pay for other obligations.

 Worker Rights – New York’s constitution guards against worker exploitation by requiring workers be paid the prevailing wage. The right to organize and bargain collectively is also incorporated in the state constitution. Without these protections, New York could quickly go the way of a so-called “right to work” state, which would dismantle labor protections and send workers on a race to the bottom for wages and benefits.

 Environment – The Adirondacks, Catskills, and surrounding forests, are a natural gift that should be preserved for future generations. Fortunately, our state constitution mandates that these lands will remain “forever wild,” and free from commercial development. If these lands become a bargaining chip in a Constitutional Convention free-for-all, they could be sold off to real estate developers and industrialists. Even though hydraulic fracturing was essentially banned in 2014, forced fracking could again be up for debate at a Constitutional Convention.

 Reproductive Rights – Our state constitution does not currently contain any restrictions on the right to access abortion or contraceptives. The recent change in composition of the U.S. Supreme Court leaves the legal right to reproductive choice hanging in the balance. If conservatives add restrictions through a Constitutional Convention and we lose a decision in the high court, women in New York could be left without the legal right to make fundamental decisions about their own bodies.

 LGBT Rights – New York is a leader in protecting and fighting for the rights of

lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act, made it unlawful in 2003 for New Yorkers to be discriminated against in employment, housing, credit, education and public accommodations because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation. The Marriage Equality Act of 2011 gave same-sex couples the right to marry in New York state and providing them the same rights, responsibilities, and benefits under state and local law as opposite-sex couples. But without the foundation of equal protection, enshrined in the Bill of Rights of our state constitution, these gains could be eliminated or eroded.

Gun Control – The NY SAFE Act stops criminals and the dangerously mentally ill from buying a gun by requiring universal background checks on gun purchases; increases penalties for people who use illegal guns; mandates life in prison without parole for anyone who murders a first responder; and imposes the toughest assault weapons ban in the country. Opponents of this law could reverse this progress through a Constitutional Convention and allow for the sale of assault weapons and open carry of guns.

 Reduce Taxes on Billionaires –Reclaim NY, an organization funded by Hedge Fund billionaire Robert Mercer and the Koch Brothers and founded by former Trump advisor Steve Bannon, is already working to reduce taxes on the wealthy. A Constitutional Convention gives groups like these another opportunity to put Wall Street and corporate interests ahead of those of ordinary New Yorkers and to spend unlimited amounts of money to push their self-serving agenda.  Reclaim NY, in a recent Newsday article, has already indicated they will be “more of a presence” should there be a Constitutional Convention.

 2% State Spending Cap – This arbitrary spending cap has resulted in billions of dollars in cuts to state agencies and local governments, particularly in the area of human services. The state spending cap is not currently in law or statute. Making this cap permanent, through a constitutional change, would wreak havoc on our state and municipal budgets for many generations.

 Voting Rights – The right to vote is the most essential element of a participatory democracy, but there are forces across the nation that want to limit voting rights. Our state constitution currently provides for voter ID through signature, but wholesale changes through a Constitutional Convention could expose us to restrictive voter ID laws aimed at disenfranchising people of color and low-income residents.

 Criminal Justice Reforms – Our state constitution protects our right to challenge and reform New York’s criminal justice system. Just this past year, legislative changes show New Yorkers can make a difference: by raising the age of criminal responsibility, enacting bail reform, ensuring access to a speedy trial, improving witness identification procedures and requiring video-taped police interrogation for serious offenses. Recent changes to New York’s Rockefeller drug laws decreased prison sentences for low-level offenders. Local communities have also curtailed stop-and-frisk policies. These necessary reforms could be undone by a constitutional convention.

In sum, it is folly to believe that lobbyists and moneyed interests with cruel, regressive, and parochial concerns won’t attack and undermine New York State’s protection of education, social welfare, the environment, workers’ rights and our system of justice.

Advocates for a Convention promise a better environment, better criminal justice, cheaper college, improved secondary education, and, magically, clean government.  But they’re empty promises that guarantee nothing.  They promise to “Make New York Great Again”, but offer no specifics or a realistic political path to accomplish these ephemeral goals.


Progressive Organizations Join Together to Urge Opposition to ConCon

Press Release

For Immediate Release:                                           Contact:

October 30, 2017                                                        Ron Deutsch, Fiscal Policy Institute

(518) 469-6769

Progressive Organizations Join Together to Urge Opposition to ConCon

The Risk is Simply Too Great

 Progressive organizations from across New York State joined together today to voice their opposition to a Constitutional Convention.  The groups suggested that for virtually all New Yorkers, there is simply more to lose than to gain by holding a Constitutional Convention. The groups highlighted multiple concerns with the rigged delegate selection process, the rights they believed could be placed at risk for a wide variety of populations in the state and the potential influence of right-wing billionaires to push their self-serving agendas.

“The ConCon is a con. In an era when federal protections for fundamental rights face unprecedented attack by the Trump regime, our state constitution provides a vital safety net for New Yorkers. We can’t let our civil liberties be used as bargaining chips,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil liberties Union.

I strongly believe there is simply more to lose than to gain by holding a Constitutional Convention,” said Ron Deutsch, executive director of the Fiscal Policy Institute. “New York’s voters should not be put in a position of having to approve decreases in some protections in order to gain increases in some others – even if, on some philosopher king’s scale, more rights and protections were gained than were lost.  Amending the state constitution should not be a game of give and take; and that’s just one of the many reasons we oppose a Constitutional Convention.”

We all know the laws of New York State can stand improvement.  But is a Constitutional Convention the best path to reform?  Can anyone guarantee that powerful political interests will protect our most fundamental and enlightened legal principles and protection?  Are we sure that even the best intentions won’t have harmful unintended consequences?

“The NYIC stands in firm opposition to a constitutional convention,” said Steven Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition. “For immigrant communities, communities of color, and New Yorkers at large, a convention carries far more risks than potential benefits. We cannot gamble with the many fundamental rights enshrined in our state’s constitution. These include equal protection regardless of immigration status, critical civil rights for immigrant students, and the mandate that the state provide health care and coverage to low-income and immigrant New Yorkers. On November 7th, we’ll be voting NO.”

“For The Legal Aid Society’s clients, the risk of losing hard-won rights in the convention is too great,” said Adriene Holder, Attorney-in-Charge of The Legal Aid Society.  “We have achieved the right to subsistence income and health insurance for low-income New Yorkers – including immigrants who have been excluded from the federal safety net – and the basic human right to have a roof over your head for homeless New Yorkers. When we are in need, these are life and death issues for many of us, and we cannot be expected to risk losing them on a gamble, particularly where we anticipate a loss in federal funding for health and human services.”

Peter Iwanowicz, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York said, “As Trump continues to put the environment in the hands of the polluters, it’s more important than ever to maintain strong standards and critical safeguards. Our Constitution is the foundation upon which protections such as the Forever Wild clause, established in 1894, are rooted. The last thing we should do is put it at-risk. A process for amending the Constitution already exists – and it works. The clear choice is a NO vote on November 7.”

“The New York State constitution guarantees students’ right to a sound basic education,” says Jasmine Gripper, legislative director at the Alliance for Quality Education. “Parents, educators and advocates have gone through years of litigation to hold elected officials accountable to meeting this standard by fully funding schools, especially schools in Black, Brown and low income neighborhoods. A constitutional convention could alter this protection for students, threatening their fundamental right to the educational opportunity they deserve.”

While the idea of a Constitutional Convention might sound great in the abstract, the process for who gets chosen to take part in the convention gives an overwhelming advantage to those with either established name recognition or access to lots of money. In this era of Citizens United, we know that money influences politics and that some hedge fund managers and other billionaires have extreme conservative views and are willing to spends endless amounts of money to push their ideological agenda.

“Right-wing billionaire hedge fund managers like Robert Mercer are poised to dominate any constitutional convention, and voters shouldn’t give them that chance,” said Charles Khan of the Strong Economy for All Coalition.  “These evil billionaires don’t want reform or progress — they want to use the politics of division and hate to make themselves richer. Our constitution shouldn’t be opened up to their corruption and greed.”

“For decades Citizen Action of New York has worked to advance progressive issues. A Constitutional Convention risks undoing all the progress we’ve made and sending us back to square one. It’s an easy way for the wealthy to chip away at our basic rights in order to stretch their profits. This cannot happen. We must commit to expanding voting rights and getting big money out of politics so that billionaires are no longer able to hold our democracy hostage,” Jamaica Miles, Capital District Organizer, Citizen Action of New York.

“Proponents of the ConCon would suggest that anyone against holding a convention is simply a defender of the status quo.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Many of the groups in opposition have been fighting the status quo for decades and want to enact meaningful changes, but we believe that there is far more to lose than to gain by opening up this Pandora’s box,” said Melanie Whaley of Indivisible (The Fight Is On).


Ever Heard of Burmese Sushi Counters? You’ve Probably Been to One

October 29, 2017. This article, featured on the front page of The New York Times, tells the story of Gam Aung, a refugee from Burma that started his own sushi counters. Although he has not finished high school and not yet mastered the English language, he lives what he calls the “American Dream.” Many may not know that their sushi is in fact made by people from Burma, and assume the makers are Japanese. This article also highlights the success story of Philip Maung, who even through great obstacles, was able to overcome them and start a very successful sushi counter franchise with counters in 41 states and sales exceeding $140 million a year. He recruits other refugees to work for his sushi counters and creates opportunities for others by providing a two week training with a $10,000 investment requirement for those that want to run a sushi counter in his franchise.

Gam Aung, a Burmese refugee, had never heard of sushi before arriving in the United States three years ago. Today, he makes six figures a year hawking creations like the Dazzling Dragon roll and the Mango Tango.

Over two years, Mr. Aung, who never finished high school and is still working on his English, went from running one grocery-store sushi counter to three. Along the way, he saved enough for a $700,000 house and trained 10 fellow Burmese to follow in his footsteps.

“Sometimes one immigrant breaks through in a big way and creates opportunity for a lot of other people,” said David Dyssegaard Kallick, who studies immigrant entrepreneurship at the Fiscal Policy Institute in New York.

His only challenge is that “all the time I am training new people,” he said. “Because when Burmese know sushi, they want their own store.”

Here is the link to The New York Times.

GOP Plan to Scrap Tax Deduction Would Hurt New York, Lawmakers Say

10/26/2017. This article discuss how experts, congressional lawmakers and advocates warn that the impact of repealing a popular state and local tax deduction would be felt by the middle class in New York City and the rest of the state, which has one of the highest tax burdens in the country.

“New York City would definitely be hit the hardest in New York State,” Ron Deutsch, executive director of the Fiscal Policy Institute, an Albany-based nonpartisan think tank, told Observer.”

The article claims that the repeal would hit the area that includes Albany, Troy, Schenectady and Saratoga particularly hard. In that region, 165,000 people, 31 percent of taxpayers, would pay $3,088 more in federal taxes on average. Across New York, the deduction loss would come out to roughly $68 billion a year.

“Look, I think the reality is if our entire congressional delegation does not support this and won’t vote for it, then it should not pass,” Deutsch added. “I certainly wouldn’t wanna be supporting this and have to go seek reelection next year.”


Access Full Article HERE



Forum Tackles Issue of Constitutional Convention

On November 4th, New Yorkers will go to the polls and decide whether to hold a Constitutional Convention. Holding a Constitutional Convention, or Con-Con for short, would allow the people to exercise their right to make changes to alter the state constitution. This vote is held every twenty years, and the last time that a Con-Con convened was in 1967. If New Yorkers vote to convene a Con-Con, they would have the opportunity to elect delegates in November 2018 and then the Convention would convene in April 2019.

In a panel discussion last night about convening a Con-Con, Executive Director of the Fiscal Policy Institute, Ron Deutsch, stated that, “I’m just really concerned that this opens up everything, There’s a question that good could be done but there’s also a question that really bad things could happen as well. Public education, the environment, the poor,” Those are the things I’m worried about being eliminated right now.”

Here is the link to the article on WNYT.

Experts: Studies Show Refugees are Key to Stabilizing Declining Rust Belt Cities Like Syracuse

October 26, 2017. This article discusses the Welcoming Economies Convening that was held in Syracuse, New York, a coalition of public and business leaders who are dedicated to resettling refugees. These organizations are aware of the economic contributions of refugees such as the reversal of population decline and job creation. These groups came together at the convening to discuss how to further accelerate and help grow their economic contributions.

Fiscal Policy Institute’s Immigration Research Director David Kallick.

“When we’re talking about growth, we have to talk about what kind of growth we want.  The constituency for what that shared prosperity looks like.  It’s not about turning one group against the other and saying, ‘oh it’s because of you that I’m not getting any,’ that’s just not been true over these last years.”

Here is the link to the article.

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