What To Do With Those Constitutional Amendments

For those of our readers who haven’t made up their minds on what to do with the nine – or 10 – constitutional amendments on your ballot in Louisiana, here’s a last-minute guide from your friends at the Hayride…

Amendment 1: Medicaid Trust Fund for the Elderly

This amendment would dictate that the state legislature can’t “sweep” funds out of the Medicaid Trust Fund for the Elderly into the general fund during budget crises, as is currently being done. But we all know that part of Louisiana’s problems in funding higher education and health care at a level folks think is necessary is that too much of the state’s revenues are locked up in dedicated funds; dedicating more funds in the midst of that problem only makes it worse.

We don’t hate old people, and we don’t hate poor old people. But it’s not good policy to constitutionally protect them at the expense of cops, kids, doctors or the taxpayer.

Vote NO on this one.

Amendment 2: Strict Scrutiny Standard for Gun Laws

This is the much-discussed “Riser Amendment” which would force courts to apply a “strict scrutiny” standard in assessing gun control laws in Louisiana. That means it would be very difficult for gun control laws to pass constitutional muster, which is a different situation than is currently the case. The amendment would also elevate the right to bear arms as a fundamental one. By doing this, the amendment would make gun rights in Louisiana perhaps stronger than any other state.

Vote YES on this one, because while our current laws on guns do a good job of protecting our 2nd Amendment rights we are a bad presidential election result tomorrow, and the flip of one Supreme Court seat, away from a breakdown at the federal level which could result in gun-grabbing at the local level. We already know that gun-control laws don’t prevent criminals from having guns, and New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Shreveport are far too dangerous for law-abiding citizens in at-risk neighborhoods not to be able to protect themselves.

Amendment 3: Earlier Notice of Public Retirement System Bills

This is an “in the weeds” amendment if ever there was one. It would require that any bills making a change to state employee retirement by pre-filed at the Legislature a month earlier than is currently required.

The effect of this being that anyone who wants to do something about the $18 billion in unfunded liability in the state retirement systems would have to give the opponents an extra month of notice to demonize their efforts. It’s inside baseball. Vote NO on this, if for no other reason than that the constitution is junked up with minutiae like this already.

Amendment 4: Property Tax Exemption for Spouses of Certain Disabled Veterans

This one tugs at your heartstrings, because who wants to deny the spouse of a veteran who was disabled in combat a slight break?

We’re not going to take an absolutist position here, because there is a good argument which says that whatever we can do to help veterans and their families. But on the other hand, aren’t we already screaming about all the tax exemptions the legislature has carved out?

And remember that when you give property tax exemptions of almost any kind, the effect is to reduce the tax base for local governments and in so doing force them to go begging to Baton Rouge to pay for cops, teachers and infrastructure. We already have far too much of that.

This is something that would best be handled at the local level rather than in the state constitution. The reality is that’s already been done in 47 parishes, with four more on the ballot tomorrow. We’ll advocate the most sympathetic NO vote possible.

Amendment 5: Forfeiture of Public Retirement Benefits for Convicted Public Servants

This one’s a no-brainer. If you violate the public trust and you’re convicted of corruption in office, you’re fortunate that the hangman’s noose or the electric chair don’t await you – but in Louisiana, you can still get things like a health plan and a pension when you get out of jail. That’s insane. The only thing wrong with this one is that it exempts current politicians and only applies to those who take office next year. Half a loaf is better than none, though.

Vote YES on this, and maybe future crooked politicians in places like Jefferson and Orleans Parishes will think twice before staging raids on the public fisc.

Amendment 6: Property Tax Exemption Authority for New Iberia

This one is perhaps the most “in the weeds” of any amendment ever put on the ballot. What it basically comes down to is whether the city of New Iberia gets to use ad valorem tax abatement contracts as an incentive to those property owners that agree to be annexed into the city.

Couldn’t care less about this, seeing as we’re not in New Iberia or more specifically the outskirts of it.

We have no recommendation for this, because on principle while stuff like this shouldn’t be in the state constitution in the first place we also shouldn’t be forced to vote as a state on something that only affects people in Iberia Parish. That something like this is on the ballot tells us fairly plainly that we need a constitutional convention pretty badly.

Amendment 7: Membership of Certain State Boards and Commissions

What brings this issue about is the fact that Louisiana lost a Congressional seat in the last apportionment and since so many of the state’s boards and commissions have their membership distributed on the basis of congressional districts they’re thrown into chaos now. An example – with Jeff Landry’s 7th congressional district going away, there are two seats on the LSU Board of Supervisors which strictly speaking shouldn’t currently exist, and yet Gov. Bobby Jindal just appointed Scott Angelle to the board because the new Congressional apportionment doesn’t actually take effect until January.

What this would do is to maintain the number of members for the LSU Board and five others – the Board of Regents, the University of Louisiana and Southern University boards, and the Civil Service and State Police Commissions – for the time being. After Jan. 3, 2013, as board members finish their terms, vacancies would be filled first from a congressional district that either is under-represented or has no representation. After each congressional district has equal representation, at-large members could be appointed to fill out the total membership required under the Constitution.

You could conceivably vote no on this one as a signal to the legislature that you’d prefer they handle stuff like this by statute and as such quit bothering voters by trying to junk up the constitution with minutiae like it. And we’d be very much on board with that, but for the fact that it’s already in the constitution and that ship has sailed.

We’re voting YES just to keep the wheels turning, but we won’t hate you if you go a different way.

Amendment 8: Property Tax Exemption for Non-Manufacturing Businesses

This amendment is in front of the voters because the state’s economic development arms have found it difficult to attract things like corporate headquarters, distribution facilities, R&D facilities and other high-value sites, and as a result they want to offer property tax breaks as an incentive to fix that.

Vote YES, because we need business tax breaks like this if we’re going to be competitive, but recognize that what will really put us in a position to compete favorably with Texas next door is to do something about the fact that we have a state income tax and they don’t. And yeah, by doing this you’re putting local governments in the position of having less property tax revenue (and as a result they’ll be begging in Baton Rouge, as we discussed above), but those local governments would have to sign up for the program creating the incentives in the first place.

Amendment 9: Crime Prevention and Security Districts

What this is about is the fact that increasingly, homeowners’ associations, subdivisions and neighborhood groups are taxing themselves to provide increased security above what the local cops provide – usually using off-duty cops. And as those groups and their districts proliferate, it’s becoming irritating to many that the first clue they get of a tax election is when they see one on their local ballot on Election Day. It’s not just the School Board who tries to sneak taxes past an unwitting public, after all.

Thus this amendment which would increase the number of lead time for those tax ballot items to be published in the newspaper.

We’re voting NO, not because we like bottom-of-the-ballot tax items nobody pays any attention to, but because this isn’t something that needs to be either in the state constitution or even governed at the state level at all. These are local issues and the state legislature has no business regulating them.

LOCAL Amendment: Term Limits For School Boards

Wherever you are, vote YES – for reasons we’ve explained here, here and here.

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