Do You Know What’s On Your Ballot?
No, this is not a kitchen table, but we’re still going to talk about money. Well not directly. We’re actually going to talk about constitutional amendments and taxes. Sexy. I know. But if it wasn’t for that first sentence, you might not have read the sentence that followed it or the one you’re reading now. So yeah, I pulled a fast one. But your local levee board and the state government may be trying to do the same. Or maybe not. Let’s talk about amendments and in a roundabout way money and taxes and find out. Of the two amendments we’re going to talk about today, first up is Amendment 4.
Remember back when Bobby Jindal was wrecking the state and every year health care and higher education were seeing cut after cut because the state constitution limited how much money from dedicated funds could be tapped to shore up a budget deficit? Surely you remember. It was a wonderful time. Conservatism was in full bloom. And its major tenet was talk fiscal responsibility, then spend recklessly in practice. We may be returning to those days once Governor John Bel Edwards’ term is up. In what you would think is a preemptive move, an amendment is on the November 13th ballot that would allow the governor and Joint Budget Committee more flexibility to address a deficit.
As it stands now, 5% of dedicated funds can be used to help shore up a general budget deficit. Amendment 4 would increase that amount to 10%. Sounds simple, but there are some things you might want to think about before voting yes or no.
Why Vote Yes
Why Yes: government tends to get more expensive by the year, not cheaper. For example, four years ago the state budget hovered around $29 billion. Today, it’s approaching $40 billion. If it wasn’t for the federal government bailout during COVID there’s no way the state would be able to fund its budget at that level. A similar scenario could play out during a fiscal crisis or some type of state mismanagement. Too often, when a budget shortfall does happen, the state is forced to cut health care and education because so much of its money is locked up in funds that have become dedicated. Some of these funds are archaic and unnecessary. It makes no sense for programs like health care that serve the majority to be cut because those that serve the minority are heavily protected. The 10% increase would help change that.
Why Vote No
Why No: it just feeds into budgetary inflation. The more money government is allowed to move from one pot to another, the less of a chance it has to ask itself questions like: how did the state budget balloon by almost $10 billion in 4 years? That’s unsustainable growth. Leaving the budgetary constraints where they stand now will help prevent any future governor and members of the committee from kicking the inflationary can down the road.
Next up, Amendment 3
Levees. Everybody likes levees. They hold back water and protect us from flooding. But apparently, everybody doesn’t like to pay for them voluntarily. Most of the parishes that require levees have levee boards that can automatically raise taxes to a certain extent when things like repairs and upkeep are required. But (yes there’s always a but) this doesn’t apply to levees built after Katrina. Those levee boards have to get voter approval before raising taxes. Amendment 3 would change that.
Why Yes: what goes on in one parish tends to affect another. Managing flood waters is a multi-parish effort. Diverting water from one area can have drastic effects on other areas. So it makes sense to allow parishes the ability to raise taxes unilaterally when tweaks or upgrades are needed for the levee system. This is why it’s a statewide vote that requires a majority of voters statewide and those in the particular parishes to pass.
Why No: we all know these boards can be wasteful. Too often more money goes towards “administrative costs” than what it’s intended for. Having these boards appeal to voters before raising taxes would result in more transparency and possibly less wasteful spending.
So there you have it. I guess we did talk about money after all. There’s a lot to consider on the upcoming November 13th ballot. From now until then we gather for more talks around the kitchen table.