Con Con justification should address change, not cost
The projected cost of conducting a state Constitutional Convention varies from $2.3 million to $41.7 million.
Considerations about whether to authorize a state Constitutional Convention have focused on the cost, which should be secondary to the issue about whether the state government's framework needs to be revamped. If voters agree that a convention is needed, it shouldn't be conducted on the cheap.
A task force assembled by Lt. Gov. James Aiona, who favors a convention, estimated last month that it would cost $2.3 million to $11.1 million, depending on the number of delegates and other factors. The Legislative Reference Bureau now estimates the cost at $6.4 million to $41.7 million, nearly half of the latter to be spent on publicly financing campaigns of candidates for 102 delegate seats.
The Aiona panel's low figure would allow only 25 delegates, too few to adequately reflect Hawaii's diversity. The bureau's high figure is for 102 delegates to be assembled at facilities costing $3.1 million. Public financing shouldn't be brushed aside, since it would lessen the effect of special interests who otherwise could buy their way onto delegate seats.
The present Constitution provides for the convention question to be placed on the November ballot every 10 years. The "yes" votes must exceed the "no" votes and blank ballots in order to authorize a Con Con.
The last convention was held in 1978, was comprised of 102 delegates - two from each of the 51 state House districts - and cost less than $2.5 million. The convention was fruitful, requiring elected officials to resign in order to run for other offices, creating term limits for the governor and lieutenant governor, establishing a judicial selection commission, requiring a balanced budget and creating the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.
The state Constitution can be and has been changed over the years by voter approval of amendments proposed by the Legislature. Most notably, voters in 1998 gave the Legislature the power to define marriage, affirming its previous ban of same-sex marriages.
Among the issues suggested for a constitutional convention are allowing initiative and referendum by popular vote, breaking up the state Board of Education into decentralized school boards and providing for public funding of election campaigns. The Legislature has rejected such proposals so they have not been put on the ballot.
Former state Sen. and U.S. Rep. Ed Case wrote in this section in May that "the time is simply overripe for us to take a big-picture, all-inclusive look at whether our compact is up to the challenges of the next generation." The question is whether a Con Con is needed to address those issues and should not be diverted by arguments about the cost of such a convention.
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