A common thread runs through many of those we oppose: Enshrining in the Constitution protections on programs and their funding sources has had a disastrous effect on Louisiana's most important economic development engine.
[Feel free to print this article and bring it to your polling place for quick reference.]
REMINDER: Early voting began Tuesday, Oct. 21, and runs through Tuesday, Oct. 28. Early voting in Lafayette is held at the Registrar of Voters office, 1010 Lafayette St., from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The Louisiana Constitution, approved by a statewide vote in 1974, has been amended 175 times, according to the Public Affairs Research Council. That's an average of more than four amendments per year, and that's not counting proposed amendments that were not approved by voters - there have been 41 proposed amendments in the last decade - and the Legislature is again asking us to decide on 14 more. Enough already.
Yet, as long as this pattern persists, we are forced to make decisions on often complicated issues that can have long-term ramifications. Of the 14 proposed amendments on the Nov. 4 ballot, The IND supports six and opposes eight. A common thread runs through many of those we oppose: Enshrining in the Constitution protections on programs and their funding sources as well as other issues related to taxes and revenue has had a disastrous effect on Louisiana's most important economic development engine - higher education.
The Advocate reported last year that state general fund support for the state's public colleges and universities "has been cut more than 80 percent since the 2007-2008 fiscal year. Louisiana's youth services have been cut 40 percent, Veteran's Affairs has been cut 69 percent and the Department of Environmental Quality has had a 96 percent cut."
Why the steep reductions for higher ed, youth services, veterans and the environment? Because those programs, unlike scores of others the state must fund each year, enjoy no constitutional protections. And, when faced with a governor looking to burnish his national political ambitions by refusing to entertain a single fee hike much less a tax - recall Gov. Bobby Jindal even vetoed the renewal of a tobacco tax - the perpetual budget deficits of Jindal's tenure force the Legislature to dip into funding streams that are not constitutionally protected. So the pantry at UL and DEQ gets raided.
As PAR points out: "Louisiana has a long history of frequent constitutional changes. Too often, amendments are drafted for a specific situation rather than setting a guiding principle and leaving the Legislature to fill in the details by statute. Special interests frequently demand constitutional protection for favored programs to avoid future legislative interference, resulting in numerous revenue dedications and trust fund provisions. The concept of a constitution as a relatively permanent statement of basic law fades with the adoption of many amendments."
The IND recommends:
Proposed Amendment No. 1
Do you support an amendment to authorize the legislature to create the Louisiana Medical Assistance Trust Fund, for the payment of Medicaid reimbursement to the health care provider groups paying fees into the fund?
NO: This is yet another attempt, albeit with the worthy goal of ensuring that Medicaid reimbursement rates to nursing homes, pharmacists and others are equitable, to create a protected fund. If passed it would, as the Council for a Better Louisiana points out, place more than $120 million the Legislature currently has control over out of lawmakers' reach. Thus it creates further exposure to higher ed and other non-protected programs.
Proposed Amendment No. 2
Do you support an amendment to create the Hospital Stabilization Fund to stabilize and protect Medicaid reimbursements for health care services by depositing assessments paid by hospitals, as authorized by the legislature, into a fund to support Louisiana hospital reimbursement?
NO: See our reasoning for No. 1. Moreover, although many states have created such funds, they have done so generally by statute, not constitutional amendment, which limits future legislatures' options when budgets are lean and resources scarce.
Proposed Amendment No. 3
Do you support an amendment allowing an authorized agent of a tax collector to assist in the tax sale process, including the sale of property for delinquent taxes and that the fee charged by the authorized agent be included within the costs that the collector can recover in the tax sale?
YES: Rural, poorer parishes in Louisiana do not have the resources to effectively enforce their revenue policies even as their need for revenue remains constant and pressing.
Proposed Amendment No. 4
Do you support an amendment to authorize the investment of public funds to capitalize a state infrastructure bank and the loan, pledge, guarantee or donation of public funds by a state infrastructure bank for eligible transportation projects?
YES: Other states have already created infrastructure banks to fund roads, bridges and other needs. This amendment does not create such an entity, it merely opens the door for the creation of one and would allow the state to invest in the bank. Such an entity could also potentially remove some of the politics - think I-49 South versus I-49 North - from funding decisions.
Proposed Amendment No. 5
Do you support an amendment to remove the constitutional requirement that a judge retire upon attaining the age of seventy or, if his seventieth birthday occurs during his term, that he retire upon completion of that term?
YES: While 70 might not be the new 50, this ceiling disqualifies smart, capable jurists from continuing their service. District court judges in Louisiana are virtually the only elected office holders with an age limit on their service. We like to think that voters are smart enough not to reward senility with re-election.
Proposed Amendment No. 6
Do you support an amendment to authorize the governing authority of Orleans Parish to increase the annual millage rate levied for fire and police protection, to require that the revenue from the fire and police millages be used for fire and police protection service enhancements, and to require that any increase be approved by the voters of Orleans Parish?
YES: This is a local decision that should be left to local voters. Approving this amendment does not raise property taxes in New Orleans, it simply would allow voters in New Orleans to decide at the ballot box whether to raise their own property taxes. Democracy at its purest.
Proposed Amendment No. 7
Do you support an amendment to provide that the homesteads of veterans with a service-connected disability rating of one hundred percent unemployability or totally disabled by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, and their surviving spouses, shall be exempt from ad valorem taxation for up to one hundred fifty thousand dollars, and that a parishwide vote shall not be required to implement this change in qualification for the exemption?
NO: We thank veterans, especially disabled vets, for their service. But if we're going to be consistent about not enshrining protections of revenue streams in the Constitution, we must opposed this.
Proposed Amendment No. 8
Do you support an amendment to establish the Artificial Reef Development Fund in the state treasury by depositing in to the fund monies that have been received by the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries in the form of grants, donations or other assistance to provide funding for programs dedicated to managing an artificial reef system, the wild seafood certification program and inshore fisheries habitat enhancement projects?
NO: Just another protected fund that leaves other vital programs exposed to further raiding in the future.
Proposed Amendment No. 9
Do you support an amendment to exclude owners who are permanently totally disabled from the requirement that they annually certify to the assessor the amount of their adjusted gross income in order to receive the Special Assessment Level on their residences for property tax purposes?
NO: Currently, permanently disabled people with incomes just under $70,000 are allowed to freeze the assessed value of their property, protecting it from future property-tax hikes. But they are required to certify their income each year. This amendment would unnecessarily remove that annual reporting requirement, which in our view is not too much to ask to ensure equitable taxation for everyone.
Proposed Amendment No. 10
Do you support an amendment providing for an eighteen-month redemption period in any parish other than Orleans, for vacant property sold at tax sale which is blighted or abandoned?
YES: Current law allows a property owner three years to re-purchase property that has been seized due to a failure to pay taxes, provided the back taxes are paid. This amendment would reduce that buy-back window to 18 months, which we think is reasonable.
Proposed Amendment No. 11
Do you support an amendment to change the maximum number of departments in the executive branch of state government from twenty to twenty-one?
NO: Why so many already? Why more? Meh.
Proposed Amendment No. 12
Do you support an amendment to require that two members of the Wildlife and Fisheries Commission be electors from parishes located north of the parishes of Beauregard, Allen, Evangeline, Avoyelles and Pointe Coupee?
NO: Maybe it's our South Louisiana bias, but why is this even a proposed constitutional amendment? The Legislature can handle it.
Proposed Amendment No. 13
Do you support an amendment to authorize the governing authority of the city of New Orleans to sell at a price fixed by the legislature property located in the Lower Ninth Ward of the city of New Orleans?
NO: We break here with our preference for local control. This proposed amendment is arbitrary, allowing a public redevelopment board in New Orleans to sell blighted property for as little as $100, but only to Ninth Ward residents, teachers, veterans and emergency responders. (Developers and corporations are barred.) What's more, even the redevelopment board has expressed concerns about whether such below-market-value transactions would meet federal guidelines.
Proposed Amendment No. 14
Do you support an amendment to provide that legislation relative to tax rebates, tax incentives, and tax abatements may not be introduced or considered by the legislature in a regular session held in an even-numbered year?
YES: Louisiana has two types of legislative sessions: general sessions on even-numbered years and fiscal sessions on odd-numbered years. During the latter only fiscal matters can be considered. Rebates, incentives and abatements are fiscal issues. Consider them during fiscal sessions.