Amendment language was confusing

Published 4:16 am Friday, November 11, 2016

For me, this year’s election was stranger than most due to the confusing constitutional amendments on the Louisiana ballots.

The amendments were passed by the legislature earlier this year and required two-thirds voter approval before they could be enacted.

Most of the amendments were clear enough. The idea that colleges should be able to set their own tuitions seems fair, and requiring minimum standards for our registrars of voters would not seem to have much of a downside.

However, the final two amendments on the ballot could have big impacts on state revenue and spending. To put it simply, they were confusing as heck. It seems strange that complex fiscal and budgetary policy should be left up to the will of the average voter.

No. 5 created a trust fund from additional corporate and mineral revenues to be used for infrastructure and pensions. This probably should be in the constitution, as a trust fund isn’t something one wants dismantled or reconfigured each election year depending on the whims of the party in control. This item passed, though I wonder how many of the 1 million supporters of the amendment realize what the trust fund will do.

Amendment No. 6 was even less clear, though. This amendment failed but had it passed it would have changed the threshold for tapping protected funds during financial crises. The ramifications of the amendment were never made clear, at least to me.

On the one hand, as the Public Affairs Research Council’s literature points out, “the existing trigger for handling … shortfalls is too high and was crafted in such a manner that it was never intended to be activated.” Creating reserve funds that are inaccessible during a shortfall does seem strange, I grant you.

But then, on the other hand, PAR points out, “This amendment discourages the development and adoption of long-term and comprehensive budget reform as it allows legislators to rely on additional one-time money to paper over underlying systemic problems …”

This, of course, sounds bad. Though, the inaccessibility of the funds hasn’t prompted legislators to undertake comprehensive budget reforms to date, so I don’t see how it would do that in the future. But, since it didn’t pass, I guess we’ll see comprehensive budget reform right around the corner.

Louisiana of late is no stranger to budget shortfalls and our tax policies are a confusing mess and should be straightened out as part of a comprehensive budget reform. But this needs to come from the state legislature.

I like participatory democracy as much as anyone and I consider myself well-informed, but leaving deep, weedy policy decisions up to the masses while investing little to no effort in public education of the issues seems malicious at worst and an inefficient means of improving our state at best. It is well and good for the voters of the state to have a say in policy through the amendment process.

Amendments have greater permanence than mere laws, as the governor cannot veto amendments and their repeal is as tedious as their passage. However, if there is no widespread effort to educate the public on the issues, then state leaders are essentially asking people to just pick a side, any one, it doesn’t matter.

My guess is, that’s exactly what the average voter did. And this, of course, doesn’t help anybody.

Jesse Wright is the managing editor of The Daily News. You can email him at or call him at 985-732-2565.