Our readers know that our position on the never-ending procession of constitutional amendments assaulting the Louisiana voter is less than a supportive one. Our default position of opposition to all constitutional amendments contains several elements.
First, it is a glaring admission of failure on the part of the Louisiana legislature that items which clearly fall under the province of ordinary legislation continue to be brought up as constitutional amendments. This is done because all too many of our leges are cowards who refuse to kill bad bills when those bills are re-cast as constitutional amendments.
“You ain’t gotta decide dis one, Boudreaux! Jus’ put it on de ballot an’ if de voters vote for it it ain’t you’ fault!”
And so we get a dozen or so of these amendments every year. Thankfully, it’s only six this year; perhaps that’s a trend that the leges recognize voters are beginning to catch on to this scam.
Secondly, these constitutional amendments usually result in siphoning money out of the state general fund, which is something that should have been reversed, rather than made worse, years ago. And yet they keep coming, and unfortunately they keep passing because uninformed voters who don’t understand the source of the state’s budget problem (which is too much money locked away in constitutional dedications) and also don’t trust the legislature to prioritize its money keep voting for them. And every year the structural problems with the budget get worse thanks to another little carving out of the general fund.
And thirdly, many of these amendments are so “in the weeds” that no voter who’s at the polls attempting to pick a president, senator, governor, congressman, state representative, sheriff, judge or police juror could possibly have time to figure out what it is they’re voting on when it comes to the minutiae of governmental organization so many of these amendments present.
So for most of the six amendments below we’re going to start off with a default position that they ought to be rejected. If you get confused, voting “no” is usually the safe bet.
Here are the amendments…
CA NO. 1 (ACT 677 – HB 459) – Registrar of Voters
Do you support an amendment to provide that the manner of appointment for the registrar of voters in each parish is as provided by law and to require the qualifications of the registrar to be provided by law? (Amends Article XI, Section 5)
There is no particular reason to believe that a local government which will appoint an incompetent or grossly unqualified registrar of voters would stop doing so because the state constitution tells them not to. This is a waste of time, and it attempts to police something which can’t be policed. If your parish is governed by morons and criminals then you’ll likely have a moron or a criminal as your registrar of voters. Get rid of the morons and criminals in elected office and replace them with better people, and your registrar of voters will likely become an exemplar of probity and earnestness. Vote no on this one.
CA NO. 2 (ACT 680 – SB 80) – Establish Tuition without Legislative Approval
Do you support an amendment to authorize the postsecondary education management boards to establish the tuition and mandatory fee amounts charged by institutions under their supervision and management, without legislative approval? (Adds Article VIII, Section 7.2)
This is one we actually like, though we’re not sure it has to be in the state constitution and that gives us pause. For a long time, though, it has been a black mark on Louisiana’s educational escutcheon that somehow the state legislature rides herd on university tuition in Louisiana. The market should govern the price of public higher education, not John Alario. Go ahead and vote yes, and then call your state rep and ask why this wasn’t done at the legislative session through the ordinary legislative process.
CA NO. 3 (ACT 31 – HB 31) – Eliminate Deductibility of Federal Income Taxes
Do you support an amendment to eliminate the deductibility of federal income taxes paid in computing state corporate income taxes? (Effective January 1, 2017) (Amends Article VII, Section 4(A))
Vote no. There is a very good argument that can be made on behalf of eliminating tax deductibility between state and federal taxes; such policies have the effect at times of protecting high-tax jurisdictions from the punishment of the market. But that’s an argument which ought to be made in Congress, and it isn’t really relevant to this amendment – this is nothing more than a tax increase to fund John Bel Edwards’ expansion of government. It can’t be dispatched rudely enough.
CA NO. 4 (ACT 678 – HB 505) – Homestead Exemption-Surviving Spouse
Do you support an amendment to authorize an exemption from ad valorem property tax for the total assessed value of the homestead of an unmarried surviving spouse of a person who died while on active duty as a member of the armed forces of the United States or the Louisiana National Guard, or while performing their duties as a state police, law enforcement, or fire protection officer? (Effective December 1, 2016) (Adds Article VII, Section 21(M))
This is a classic case of a bad bill sent out as a constitutional amendment rather than killed in a tough floor vote. If you’re against it, it means you hate the widows of first responders, and so you can’t vote against it. But you should, because surviving spouses already get a life insurance policy and in most cases access to a pension. We don’t need to further junk up the state tax code with more exemptions that apply to small numbers of people. If Iberville Parish wants to subsidize the widows of its fallen law officers, then Iberville Parish can decide to reimburse them for their property taxes. Nobody would stop them from doing so and the state constitution doesn’t need to be involved.
CA NO. 5 (ACT 679 – HB 603) – Revenue Stabilization Trust Fund
Do you support an amendment to establish the Revenue Stabilization Trust Fund for the deposit of recurring mineral and corporate tax revenues, to restrict the use of the fund to 10% of the balance when the balance reaches $5 billion, to restrict the use of the fund to construction projects and transportation infrastructure, and to allocate recurring mineral revenues to the payment of state employee retirement debt? (Adds Article VII, Section 10(F)(4)(h), 10.15, and 10.16)
Essentially what this does is put Louisiana into the sovereign wealth fund business, which shouldn’t make anybody too comfortable. There is an argument to be made for using oil and gas revenue on infrastructure, which the legislature has without question neglected – as it has the problem of unfunded accrued liabilities in the pension system. Essentially what you’re being asked to do is bail out the legislature for its poor management of the state’s finances by restricting its power to set budget priorities. You can take the position that imposing more structure on the legislature to force them to spend on things that ought to be priorities, which this would, would create improved governmental spending. We’d be persuaded by that, but what we see is the net effect of these various trust-fund schemes is to rig the game in favor of never-ending tax increases. We’d rather the legislature have the power and freedom – and responsibility – to appropriate money responsibly, and an electorate willing to punish them severely for their sins against that responsibility. We oppose this scheme, though reasonable people could differ.
CA NO. 6 (ACT 681 – SB 201) – Use Funds to Eliminate Projected Deficits
Do you support an amendment to authorize the use of up to five percent of current year appropriations or allocations from statutorily or certain constitutionally created funds or up to one percent of the current year’s balances in certain constitutionally created funds to eliminate a projected deficit in the next fiscal year if the official forecast for the next fiscal year is less than the official forecast for the current fiscal year or if the official forecast has been reduced by at least one percent from the most recently adopted estimate for the ensuing fiscal year, and to exempt certain funds and mandates from being used to eliminate a projected deficit? (Amends Article VII, Section 10(F)(2)(b); adds Article VII, Section 10(F)(4)(h), (i), (j), (k), and (l))
Essentially, this empowers fund sweeps, which former Gov. Bobby Jindal used to use as a mechanism to balance the state budget when it was in deficit for essentially the entirety of his second term and for which he was roundly pilloried as using “one-time money” to balance the state budget. We’ve never understood why that was such a problem; if there were surpluses in the various little pools of dedicated state money that was an indication that the sources of those funds were being overcharged and there was no value in not using that money for things the legislature deemed to be of a higher priority. The only real objection we ever had was that if the dedicated funds were running surpluses big enough to sweep into the general fund, then the best use of the money would be to return it to the public by reducing taxes or fees. If that couldn’t happen then by all means spend it in the general fund so taxes aren’t raised to cover a deficit. This amendment would be an exception to the default rule of opposition; we’ll support it.
In summary, Amendments 2 and 6 are keepers, Amendment 5 is a defensible yes though not one we would join you in, and the rest of them deserve your rejection and perhaps contempt. And feel free to call your legislator and demand that he stop sending you so damn many trifles to vote on. It’s his job to vote on policy questions, not yours, and he needs to quit passing the buck to you.