Vote ‘yes’ for land bank, reining in felons’ pensions

Three questions will be on the back of all New Yorkers’ ballots this Election Day, Nov. 7. The first and shortest of these — “Shall there be a convention to revise the Constitution and amend the same?” — is the most complicated and a subject for another day, but in our minds, the other two are easy “yes” votes.

The third question has to do with the Adirondacks and was initiated by our region’s state senator, Betty Little. It would create a 250-acre land bank for the Adirondack and Catskill parks, alleviating the need to go through this cumbersome constitutional amendment process for every minor Forest Preserve land swap. Keene’s cemetery expansion, Raquette Lake’s new well, a power line to Tupper Lake and other local instances required small land swaps with state land — which covers nearly half of the Adirondack Park’s 6 million acres — but even though environmentalists endorsed the moves, each required a constitutional amendment. Two successive state legislatures had to approve each, and then every voter in New York had to weigh in on.

That’s too much. It scares municipalities away from doing other small, non-controversial and necessary projects — road or bridge repairs, for instance. Adirondack environmental agencies agree and have endorsed voting “yes” to this measure, as have — no surprise — local government groups. We do, too.

The second question on the back of the ballot would lessen the ironclad guarantee of pensions for public employees — but lest that worry you, it would only “allow a court to reduce or revoke the public pension of a public officer who is convicted of a felony that has a direct and actual relationship to the performance of the public officer’s existing duties.”

It wouldn’t apply to past cases — Joyce Mitchell will still get her pension despite helping two murderers break out of the Dannemora prison in 2015 — but it could revoke funds from the next Mitchell. It wouldn’t affect the next Chris Ortloff, a parole board member and ex-assemblyman imprisoned for arranging a sex romp with two pre-teen girls, but it could apply to public officials who commit sex crimes on the job. It wouldn’t hurt Sheldon Silver or Dean Skelos, the disgraced former heads of the state Assembly and Senate, but it would affect future corrupt politicians who take bribes or otherwise abuse their power feloniously.

A New York state pension is a generous, taxpayer-funded privilege far beyond the hopes of most private-sector workers. It’s outrageous and unjust that the public will guarantee this money to crooks like Mitchell for the rest of their lives. Vote yes to rein that in. Maybe it can be reined in more in the future, but for now, let’s take what we can get.


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