Oct. 19, 2015 10:57 AM

To the degree the Louisiana Constitution is a high-minded, lasting expression of our legal frameworks and civic values, it is equally and emphatically a special-interest hodgepodge of legal carve-outs and jurisdictional exceptions. A mess. The Louisiana Constitution adopted in 1974 has been amended 181 times. By contrast, the U.S. Constitution adopted in 1789 has been amended 27 times, and one of those amendments undid an earlier one. Can we get a sheesh, folks?

But amend our sacred state document we must. Again. What’s four more going to hurt?

The Independent opposes Amendment No. 1 and is in favor of Nos. 2-4.

Amendment No. 1 as it will appear on the Oct. 24 ballot: “Do you support an amendment to rename the Budget Stabilization Fund to the Budget and Transportation Stabilization Trust; to authorize the mineral revenue base to be increased every five years; to create the Budget Stabilization Subfund as a subfund in the Trust, to be funded with mineral revenues until reaching a maximum balance of five hundred million dollars, to be appropriated and used when the state has a deficit; to create the Transportation Stabilization Subfund as a subfund in the Trust, to be funded with mineral revenues until reaching a maximum balance of five hundred million dollars, to be appropriated and used for planning, design, construction, and maintenance connected with the state highway program, with twenty percent dedicated for use by the Louisiana Intermodal Connector Program; and to provide for the interruption of deposits into the Budget Stabilization Subfund and the Transportation Trust Subfund the year that the state has a deficit and the following year with the resumption of deposit of mineral revenues in the Budget and Transportation Stabilization Trust thereafter?”

Our Take: Major media and good-government groups are divided on this amendment. We’re inclined to agree with Louisiana Budget Project and others: Approval of this amendment could jeopardize the rainy day fund by creating two sub-funds — the Budget Stabilization Subfund and a corresponding subfund for transportation — out of what was once simply a rainy day fund. Bond rating agencies look for a robust rainy day fund in determining how cheaply the state can borrow money. And, although the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana offers only pros and cons in its guide to the constitutional amendments and takes no positions, its argument against is compelling: “The amendment shortchanges the state on fiscal stability while delivering only limited new funding to transportation for years to come. The amendment’s transportation spending restrictions unnecessarily limit the state’s flexibility in choosing priority highway projects as well as overall budget priorities.”

Vote against Amendment No. 1.

Amendment No. 2 as it will appear on the Oct. 24 ballot: “Do you support an amendment to authorize the investment of funds for a state infrastructure bank to be used solely for transportation projects?”

Our Take: Yes, it’s time to fund the Infrastructure Bank. It has already been created by the Legislature; it just hasn’t been capitalized. Approval of this amendment would allow the Louisiana treasurer, who routinely invests state monies in interest-bearing bonds and other financial tools, the flexibility to infuse the Infrastructure Bank with cash. Eventually, the bank would be sufficiently capitalized to offer low-cost loans to municipalities for infrastructure projects. The argument against is that an infrastructure bank is expensive to kick start. However, once established it could be an essential tool for communities in a cash-poor state. It’s time to stop kicking the can down the road.

Yes on Amendment No. 2.

Amendment No. 3 as it will appear on the Oct. 24 ballot: “Do you support an amendment to allow any legislation regarding the dedication of revenue, rebates, and taxes to be considered during a fiscal legislative session?”

Our Take: This seems like a no-brainer. Legislators should have broader guidelines on what a “fiscal” bill is, and historically too many bills are filed in fiscal sessions held on odd-numbered years then rejected before consideration because they’re deemed “non-fiscal.” Lawmakers are only allowed to file five bills each per session, many of which currently are rejected before consideration because they’re deemed “non-fiscal.” We not persuaded by arguments that giving more flexibility to legislators will promote chaotic sessions. We’re confident Senate and House leaders can manage even as they give lawmakers more flexibility.

We support approval of Amendment No. 3.

Amendment No. 4 as it will appear on the Oct. 24 ballot: “Do you support an amendment to specify that the ad valorem property tax exemption for public lands and other public property shall not apply to
land or property owned by another state or a political subdivision of another state?”


Our Take: Another no-brainer — with a caveat. Why should property owned in Louisiana by an out-of-state political subdivision be exempt from property tax? This case stems from West Carroll Parish, which tried to levy a property tax on land within its jurisdiction owned by the municipal utility company of Memphis, Tenn. First of all, c’est what? The utility successfully sued and the case is currently being litigated, which is where we insert our caveat: This is another instance of using the constitutional amendment process to address a local concern. Louisiana voters have done this numerous times before, notably by allowing cities to break away from their parish’s public school system and form a school system of their own. But we’re sympathetic to the cause of West Carroll, one of the poorest parishes in the state with little tax base. Depriving our poorest parishes of vital revenue reduces their self-sufficiency and makes them more reliant on the state, i.e., all taxpayers, which is bad for Louisiana as a whole.

This constitutional amendment could be a precedent-setter. Vote yes on 4.

ICYMI:

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