Oct. 27, 2016 12:21 AM

The Louisiana Constitution has to be the most amended state constitution in the U.S. Every election, it seems, voters are asked to tweak it. Last October it was four amendments. In 2014 it was 14. There were nine in 2012. This year it's a modest six. Here's what we recommend, and why:

Amendment No. 1 — YES

“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?”

What Amendment No. 1 would do, if passed: It would allow the Legislature to establish qualifications for parish registrars of voters and to set guidelines in selecting registrars, who are appointed by each parish’s governing authority.

Why we support Amendment No. 1: It just makes sense. It might not be the case everywhere in Louisiana, but it is definitely the case somewhere in Louisiana, that the registrar of voter job is one of political patronage. Registering citizens to vote and protecting against fraud are critically important. Registrars should be highly qualified — not highly connected.

Amendment No. 2 — YES

“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?”

What Amendment No. 2 would do, if passed: It would allow the governing boards of Louisiana’s public university systems to set tuition rates, not the Legislature, which has historically been in control of tuition.

Why we support Amendment No. 2: Louisiana has been an outlier on college tuition — one of only a few states nationwide that gives tuition authority to state lawmakers instead of the administrators who run the university systems. We believe the latter are better positioned and have an infinitely deeper understanding of higher ed to make tuition decisions for their respective college systems. They need autonomy.

Amendment No. 3 — YES

“Do you support an amendment to eliminate the deductibility of federal income taxes paid in computing state corporate income taxes?”

What Amendment No. 3 would do, if passed: It would replace Louisiana’s Byzantine corporate income tax structure, which ranges from 4 percent to 8 percent, with a flat state income tax of 6.5 percent; and it would prevent corporations from deducting their federal income taxes from their state tax burden.

Why we support Amendment No. 3: Passage of this amendment would get Louisiana in line with neighboring states, increase revenue for state government at a critical time while giving corporations certainty in their tax burden, while at the same time lowering the tax liability for companies currently within the highest brackets.

Amendment No. 4 — NO

“Do you support an amendment to authorize an exemption rom 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?”

What Amendment No. 4 would do, if passed: It would eliminate personal property taxes for the widows and widowers of soldiers, police officers and fire fighters killed in the line of duty.

Why we oppose Amendment No. 4: It’s a feel-good measure, to be sure, but would affect very few residents, and it further complicates already-complicated parish tax rolls with yet another tax exemption. The state should be working toward simplicity in our tax code by eliminating exemptions rather than adding more to it.

Amendment No. 5 — YES

“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?”

What Amendment No. 5 would do, if passed: It would establish a fund that would serve as a savings account for large windfalls from corporate taxes and mineral revenues, allowing lawmakers to modestly tap the fund only in dire budget crises while protecting it from the types of budget raids characterized by the Jindal years.

Why we support Amendment No. 5: Government revenue, especially in mineral extraction (oil and gas), has a tendency toward boom and bust. We’re in a bust cycle right now with oil prices low. A Revenue Stabilization Trust Fund would direct lawmakers to stash away corporate and mineral revenue during the good times and offer protections when times are lean and the fund must be drawn down, and it directs 30 percent of those revenues toward paying down unfunded accrued liabilities in the state’s two major retirement systems. It’s a prudent move to ensure future solvency within state government.

Amendment No. 6 — YES

“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?”

What Amendment No. 6 would do, if passed: It would allow state lawmakers, under some specific circumstances, to tap into funds that are currently constitutionally protected.

Why we support Amendment No. 6: This was a thorny one — it’s the most complicated and, arguably, an imperfect, short-term fix for nagging problems with the Louisiana Constitution (which, given our druthers, could use a total re-write). But with debilitating cuts to higher education and health care during the Jindal era — precisely because those two areas are not constitutionally protected — the status quo in state budgeting is simply unacceptable. The state faces a $1 billion-plus budget deficit in the next year, and higher education and public health care simply cannot afford to bear the brunt of future budget cuts. Lawmakers need this flexibility.

Read the recommendations by the Council for a Better Louisiana here.

The Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana's analysis can be read here.

Our friends at Gambit Weekly in New Orleans have their recommendations here.

Louisiana Budget Project differs with us on Amendment No. 2 (tuition authority). Read why here.


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