September 08, 2017

Constitutional convention poses unnecessary risks for seniors

Author: Kara Smith
Source: NYSUT Communications

Barry Kaufmann, president of the New York State Alliance for Retired Americans, had a simple message for attendees at NYSARA’s Critical Senior Issues Conference at NYSUT headquarters in September: On Nov. 7, vote “no” on the constitutional convention; there’s simply too much to lose.

Aiming to raise awareness about the dangers of opening the New York State constitution, Kaufmann detailed several constitutional guarantees that could be jeopardized, particularly for seniors, if a convention takes place. These include absentee ballot voting, nursing home oversight, senior tax exemptions and prohibitions against age discrimination.

“Seniors use the absentee ballot more than any other demographic,” said Kaufmann, explaining that restrictions could suppress the senior vote, and reduce their strength and voice at the polls. Protections against age discrimination ensure that seniors receive fair treatment for housing and jobs, a particularly important consideration since an estimated 31 percent of seniors between the ages of 65 and 75 will be in the workforce by 2020, explained Kaufmann.

“And do we really want to risk oversight for nursing homes in New York State?” he asked. “I don’t need to tell you how important that protection is for our most vulnerable citizens.”

The constitution also guarantees tax protections for seniors. A constitutional convention could jeopardize valuable benefits like the Enhanced STAR property tax exemption, and exemptions for Social Security income and city, state and federal pensions. Since 13 states already tax social security income and 41 states currently tax public pensions, tax change is a real possibility, said Kaufmann.

“We are in a very pro-change political climate right now, so it’s important to let seniors know what’s at stake if a constitutional convention takes place,” said Kaufmann. He explained that a constitutional convention opens wide the state constitution, allowing anything from subtle tweaks to a full constitutional re-write. “It’s like Pandora’s Box; once it’s opened, you don’t know what could happen.”

He encouraged attendees to spread the word about why state citizens should vote no on the constitutional convention ballot question on Nov. 7. “Visit the NYSARA website, https://nystate.retiredamericans.org, for sample letters to the editor, social media posts and other information,” suggested Kaufmann.

Additional resources, including links to the websites of NYSUT's coalition partners and information on ordering lawn signs, buttons and bumper stickers, are available at www.nysut.org/concon.