A People’s Convention To Reform New York Is Our Best Hope To Change The Empire State

Legislative column from Assembly Minority Leader Brian M. Kolb (R,I,C-Canandaigua)
August 21, 2009

Do you think it’s time to change New York State government? Do you think New York State government has stopped working for you? If you answered “YES” to either of those questions, keep reading!

A Quinnipiac University Poll released earlier this week put an exclamation point on the need for real reform of our state government. The poll reflected a growing, bi-partisan dissatisfaction among voters of the Empire State’s direction and, more specifically, the performance of the State Legislature. The Quinnipiac Poll found 72 percent of respondents disapproving of the way the State Legislature is doing the people’s business; with 58 percent indicating it was either “the worst” or “among the worst” in the nation. A total of 71 percent of voters were “somewhat dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied” with the way things are presently going in New York State. A mere two percent said we had “the best” State Legislature in the country. Two percent. Think about that: would any private sector company having only two percent of its customers thinking it was “the best” stay in business? Of course not.

Maurice Carroll, director of Quinnipiac Poll Institute, summed up the poll’s findings of voter disgust with the State Legislature’s performance as such: “Dysfunctional is practically a synonym for the New York State Legislature and voters want a change.”

While the poll’s findings are unsurprising, they should serve as a very loud wake-up call for certain politicians and special interests that still see no problem in continuing on with the status quo. The aforementioned status quo has yielded a multi-billion dollar State Budget deficit, an unsustainable growth in government spending, and a $54.5 billon debt, along with some of the nation’s highest energy, health care, regulatory costs and job-killing taxes. Moreover, as the Quinnipiac Poll indicates, Albany’s gridlock, endless finger pointing and partisan blame game have dramatically eroded the people’s confidence in their state government. You can review the Quinnipiac Poll yourself by going to www.quinnipiac.edu.

Without question, Albany’s business as usual approach has made a tough economy even worse for New York families who are struggling just to keep their heads – and their homes – above water. There are still over 800,000 New Yorkers unemployed and millions more who worry about making the mortgage, affording college or paying their property taxes. These challenges are real and our state government seems unwilling or unable to help New Yorkers meet them.

The problems in Albany have gotten so bad, the institution of state government has become so unresponsive, the special interests and political insiders have gotten so entrenched, piecemeal approaches and merely nibbling around the edges of these challenges is like trying to empty the ocean with a teaspoon: it won’t get the job done.

New York needs real reform and comprehensive change. Our state needs a People’s Convention to Reform New York. I called for a People’s Convention to Reform New York so the people – not the politicians, lobbyists or special interests – could be empowered to fix the many problems chronically plaguing our state and its citizens.

The bi-partisan legislation I will shortly introduce calls for this effort to be of, by and for the people of New York. I am specifically calling for all elected officials, lobbyists, special interests and political bosses to NOT run as a delegate or serve in the process. Frankly, many of these are the very same people who helped create the mess New York State currently finds itself in.

I cannot stress this point enough: the People’s Convention to Reform New York will be, must be, a non-partisan affair. It will be above the kind of partisan politics that have thwarted reform and valued conflict over cooperation to achieve real solutions. I will be asking the Majority in the Assembly and, once my measure receives companion legislation, the Majority in the Senate to join with the Minority in signing-on as sponsors of my legislation to convene a People’s Convention to Reform New York.

Make no mistake – certain politicians, special interests, lobbyists and Albany insiders will oppose any effort to give people the power to reform New York. However, I believe that things have gotten so bad in our state that we have finally reached a tipping point in public opinion strongly favoring a People’s Convention to Reform New York. Going back to the aforementioned Quinnipiac Poll as evidence, 64 percent of respondents agreed with holding a People’s Convention to Reform New York. Back in 1997, when a similar effort at reform was attempted, a Quinnipiac Poll asking basically the same question received support from 56 percent of voters. This increase in support reflected in the recent Quinnipiac Poll affirms what I believe is an emerging bi-partisan consensus among New Yorkers that things in state government have gotten much worse in the intervening years and that bold action is now required.

In 1997, many leading daily newspapers across the state editorialized in support of a People’s Convention to Reform New York, including the Buffalo News, Syracuse Post Standard, Niagara Gazette, Poughkeepsie Journal, New York Post, Daily News, Newsday, New York Times, and the Watertown Daily Times, to name just a few.

With the strong support of individuals wanting positive change, the People’s Convention to Reform New York will become a reality and produce a less costly, more accountable and responsive state government that once again serves the people. At the end of the day, I believe success of the People’s Convention to Reform New York ultimately boils down to one simple question all voters should ask their elected representatives in state government: are you for reform or not? As the Quinnipiac Poll demonstrated, a majority of New Yorkers are not only hungry for reform, they are demanding it.

As always, constituents wishing to discuss this topic, or any other state-related matter, should contact my district office at (315) 781-2030, or e-mail me at kolbb@assembly.state.ny.us.