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February 8, 2010 - 9:22am

Today's Poll: Should New Yorkers be able to change laws through referendum votes?

posted by Howard B. Owens in polls.
Ray Yacuzzo
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Referendum voting is precisely what got California into the trouble it has.
Howard B. Owens
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Ray, I'd say more -- referendum in California hasn't done anything to help. Most of my life in California I was anti-prop 13, but I've had a new appreciation for it since moving to New York. But the most serious problems facing California today aren't related to prop 13, but more out of control state labor unions. The problem with referendum is just like a lot of our politics, how a proposition does, whether it passes or not, depends both on the money spent for or against and which side makes the most effective emotional appeal. It seems tempting to think, "well, at least the people can have a say," but there's just no evidence that the people having a more direct say in California has resulted in better government. Even passing term limits did nothing to make things better, and perhaps made matters worse.
C. M. Barons
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The practical drawback to conducting referedums is cost vs turnout. It costs from $1 - 15 million to conduct a statewide special election with an anticipated public response between 10 and 40%. Currently the NY Constitution does not provide for either initiatives, recalls or referenda. There is a bill under consideration in the Senate to amend the Constitution, providing for such popular action. http://open.nysenate.gov/openleg/api/1.0/html/bill/S6060
Dennis Jay
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The fact that so far 76% of people who took this poll support a referendum-type democracy kinda suggests voters aren't smart enough to have a direct hand in decision-making. Allowing referenda would hurt Western New York and other rural areas of the state. Decisions would mostly favor down-state population centers as the expense of upstate. The state needs three things in my opinion: (1) some restructuring to decentralize power in Albany, (2) an educated citizenry to make better decisions at the ballot box, and (3) more smart people willing to run for elective office.
C. M. Barons
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Wouldn't it be interesting to consider a state budget process akin to school budget approval? Governor submits state operating budget to legislature, legislature adjusts budget for capital projects and public approves final budget via referendum. If budget fails, the operating budget becomes effective as a contingency. Infrastructure improvement such as transportation, water treatment and building projects are voted on as separate bond issues. Voters would get final say on pork projects. As for unfunded mandates, these become optional if the cost represents more than a 1% increase as applied to local budgets.
C. M. Barons
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In fact, why not turn the budget process upside-down and do away with the state legislature. Governor submits budget to local government. Local government amends for capital projects and public votes. Budget funds go directly to local government- no middleman. Considering how ineffective the legislature is- we won't even miss the lard-a**es.
Howard B. Owens
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I'd push down more services and taxes to the local level. I'd strip the state of any power to tax anything. Local government would raise taxes and send some mandated percentage share to the state. The local government would need to ensure the tax structure, and its spending habits, worked well for the local residents, and enough was left over to send the mandated amount to the state. I'm not sure what jobs there would be left for the state at that point, but probably something.
Jeff Allen
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One of the concerns I had about referendum voting was decision making being centralized in the metropolitan areas as Dennis pointed out. Howard, did you find that to be the case in CA?
Howard B. Owens
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I was an urban dweller in CA all but my last year there, so my perception might be warped, but I don't think California has much of a rural voice. Farming there is mostly dominated, it seems to me, by large, large corporations. At least in the big ag belt of the central valley. There isn't much concern I ever heard for protecting a rural way of life. Los Angeles and San Francisco set a largely typical urban/rural agenda that dominates the state, but because San Diego and Orange County also have big populations and are Republican strong holds, then the imbalance isn't as great as my perception of New York so far, where urban downstate interests have a disproportionate sway, even without referendums.
C. M. Barons
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Actually, Howard, there is strong evidence to the contrary. There is a history of upstate voters prevailing. The Transportation Bond vote of 2000 had strong support in the downstate region. If passed, the $3 billion would have been split between road projects and upgrading NYC/LI mass transit systems. The upstate region defeated that bond with a slim but decisive margin. Our woes come from being under-represented both in state government and Washington. When the next census is tabulated we stand to lose two more Congressional seats. New York’s delegation in the House of Representatives peaked at 45 seats, following the 1930 Census. Other states particularly in the sunbelt, have outgrown us. New York has only 29 seats and will have 27 when all is said and done. Upstate's alignment with the Republican Party is also a disadvantage. Although the Senate is more or less evenly split, the Assembly is dominated by Democrats. Having a Republican Assemblyman is little more than tokenism. A referendum law would benefit upstate.

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