Analysis: Lighter Load This Year For Voters On Amendments
BATON ROUGE (AP) — Louisiana's lawmakers were kinder to the state's voters this year, giving them only four proposed constitutional changes to sift through on the Oct. 24 ballot, rather than a dozen or more.
The issues up for review, however, remain dense, requiring voters to do their homework if they want to make a reasonably well-informed decision on the four amendments — that is, if they're going to bother with them at all.
Voters in Louisiana routinely are expected to decipher a list of complex proposals to amend the state constitution.
The confusing, often arcane proposals placed on the ballot year after year are symptomatic of a cluttered guiding document for state government, jam-packed with detailed policy that many other states leave to statute.
Since it was adopted in 1974, the Louisiana Constitution has been amended 181 times, according to the nonpartisan Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, known as PAR, which has tracked constitutional changes for decades.
"The concept of the constitution as a relatively permanent statement of basic law fades with the adoption of many amendments," PAR wrote in its guide to the four constitutional amendments on this month's ballot.
To get on the ballot requires a two-thirds vote of both the House and the Senate. The legislation bypasses a governor's desk, going straight to the voters for consideration.
This year's list all ties into money.
First up is an amendment that would steer oil and gas money that would otherwise flow into the state's "rainy day" fund into a transportation fund instead, to spend on road and bridge work.
A second amendment also seeks to pour more money into transportation projects, allowing the state treasurer to invest public dollars into an "infrastructure bank" that works as a revolving loan program for local governments to borrow money for the projects at low interest rates.
Organizations pushing for new investment into road repairs and highway upgrades are pumping money into advertising efforts supporting those first two proposals.
The remaining two amendments are more obscure.
The third proposal slightly widens the definition of what can be considered in fiscal legislative sessions held every two years to deal with mainly budget and tax issues. And the final amendment clarifies that state or local governments from outside Louisiana have to pay taxes on property they own in this state.
Years of elections show that participation drops as voters move down the list of constitutional amendments. Fewer votes are cast the farther down the ballot an amendment is.
That likely won't dissuade lawmakers from offering new amendments for consideration year after year.
In recent elections, voters have been asked to consider complex proposals that range from significant tax and budget changes to highly specialized issues only applicable to one municipality.
Last year's election was one of the heftiest lists of amendments voters ever faced at once, with 14 proposals. While nearly 1.5 million people voted in the U.S. Senate race on that November ballot, 88,000 fewer people weighed in on the first constitutional amendment on the list. By the 14th amendment, another 84,000 fewer people bothered to make a decision, according to data from the Secretary of State's office.
Items are locked into the constitution to make them more difficult to undo. Removing something from the constitution takes the same vote as adding them: two-thirds from the House and Senate and support from voters in an election.
Budget protections and state financing plans have been put into the constitution to mollify concerns of Louisianians distrustful of their politicians. Special interest groups seek constitutional protection for their programs to make them less vulnerable to legislative meddling. And, as more gets written into the constitution, that requires more amendment proposals as situations change or problems develop with the provisions added.
Lawmakers have been unwilling to embark on a constitutional convention to change the situation. And with the four men vying to be Louisiana's next governor all seeking to heavily rewrite the state tax structure, voters can expect more complex and confusing amendments in upcoming elections.
– by AP Reporter Melinda Deslatte