Oct. 17, 2007 12:00
This Saturday, in addition to local and statewide races, Louisiana voters will be asked to vote on four constitutional amendments. Regular voters are used to constitutional amendments being part of their experience in the voting booth; Louisiana legislators have an unfortunate and puzzling track record of adding to our constitution at every opportunity. Our state leads th e nation in constitutional amendments, with 210 proposed amendments put on ballots since 1974. The amendments can be particularly challenging for voters, as they're usually written in tortured legalese.

The nonpartisan Council for a Better Louisiana has researched the amendments and made their recommendations to voters. For detailed information on the amendments, visit www.cabl.org.

Here are The Independent Weekly's positions on the Oct. 20 constitutional amendments:

1. To prohibit the reduction of state salary supplements for full-time law enforcement and fire protection officers.

Of the four proposed amendments, No. 1 is the most controversial. You'd be hard pressed to find anyone that believes policemen and firefighters don't deserve financial protection to ensure that they make an adequate salary for their efforts to protect the public. Currently, part of their salaries is covered through supplemental pay through the state, at a rate of $300 per month. The Legislature increased that amount to $425 per month, but needs this constitutional amendment to pass for the raise to go into effect.

The crux of the debate over this issue is state versus local responsibility for law enforcement and fire protection salaries. Local policemen and firefighters work for local governments, yet the state currently contributes $5,100 per year toward each employee's salary, for a total of nearly $100 million shouldered by state taxpayers.

In addition to increasing that amount, this amendment would continue the unfortunate trend of local government relying too heavily on state government. And should Louisiana face a budget crisis, the amendment prevents state government from having the discretion to use those funds for potentially pressing needs.

We recommend voting AGAINST Constitutional Amendment No. 1.

2. To authorize the Legislature to supplement the uniform pay plan of sworn, commissioned law enforcement officers employed by a bona fide police agency of the state or its political subdivisions and for fire protection officers employed by a port authority from any available funds of the state, the department, the agency, or the political subdivision, provided that such supplement may be made available only for those law enforcement officers employed on a full-time basis who serve the welfare of the public in the capacity of a police officer by providing police services to the general public, by effecting arrests, issuing citations, and serving warrants while patrolling waterways and riverfront areas and for those fire protection officers employed on a full-time basis who provide fire protection services to a port authority.

That's a mouthful. If passed, this amendment would expand state supplemental pay for port authority workers, including firefighters and state law enforcement officers. Like constitutional amendment No. 1, the objective is worthy, but it would be extremely difficult to change if it's written into the constitution and opens the door to future supplemental pay amendments for other state workers.

We recommend voting AGAINST constitutional amendment No. 2.

3. To provide that no benefit provision for members of any state retirement system having an actuarial cost shall be approved by the legislature unless a funding source providing new or additional funds sufficient to pay all such actuarial cost within 10 years of the effective date of the benefit provision is identified in such enactment.

Constitutional amendment No. 3 would affect the rules for retiring new debt in the state retirement system. It would require a funding source to be identified to pay for benefits before future benefits are approved, and require any debt from increased benefits to be paid back within 10 years. Simply put, this is smart and responsible fiscal policy.

We recommend voting FOR constitutional amendment No. 3.

4. To exempt consigned jewelry from ad valorem property taxation.

We suspect only an accountant or lawyer would understand the term "ad valorem property taxation," so here's this amendment in plain language: Jewelry on consignment would be exempt from property tax. It piggybacks on an amendment passed last year that exempted consigned artwork from property tax; jewelers would benefit by allowing retailers to keep their items in stock for potential sales and higher sales tax, rather than forcing retailers to ship back items at the end of the year to avoid property tax.

We support the intent behind the amendment, but like so many other constitutional amendments, it opens up Pandora's box for future amendments. For example, would an independent clothier who offers retailers their products on consignment be next in line for a similar constitutional amendment?

We recommend voting AGAINST constitutional amendment No. 4.

To comment on these recommendations, e-mail indbox@theind.com.

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