It is fast becoming clear that Louisiana needs to do something, because the state has more than one billion dollars in its budget that it can’t fund, and it always seems to be higher education that takes the hit. Now, I am not in the business of defending higher education: bloated administrative costs and program offerings that do little but employ otherwise unemployable professors have done tons of damage to higher education. However, that massive cuts have to hit our institutions does prove a problem in terms of keeping students, and eventually a workforce, in the state.
The constant mid-year shortfalls and budget gaps happen not just because the state has a bloated government, but because it has a bloated constitution. The Constitution of the State of Louisiana of 1974 was created in part because their were so many amendments to the previous constitution that the state decided it would be easier to scrap it and start over. Since then, we’ve added more amendments to this constitution than the last one.
When it comes to tying our financial crises to our constitution, look no further than Article VII, which has been amended more than one hundred times since 1974. There are numerous property tax exemptions that serve little to no purpose (other than protecting the money of some special interests over time), and those aren’t even some of the worst offenses. In 1995, someone apparently thought this would be a good idea:
§2.1. Fees and Civil Fines; Limitation
Section 2.1.(A) Any new fee or civil fine or increase in an existing fee or civil fine imposed or assessed by the state or any board, department, or agency of the state shall require the enactment of a law by a two-thirds vote of the elected members of each house of the legislature.
(B) The provisions of this Section shall not apply to any department which is constitutionally created and headed by an officer who is elected by majority vote of the electorate of the state.
Added by Acts 1995, No. 1324, §1, approved Oct. 21, 1995, eff. Nov. 23, 1995.
Get that? Fees and civil fines (fancy terms for taxes, honestly) can only be created or increased by the legislature… except not really. Any statewide politician or office created by the state’s constitution can also do it. Why even have this section at all then? To keep municipalities from running rampant with new fees? They can just write more speeding tickets and make up the difference.
What gets me is just how much different this is from the U.S. Constitution, which has lasted for 227 years. The longest a Louisiana state constitution has existed before being redone was a little more than fifty years. The U.S. Constitution is a framework – it’s a skeleton to the muscle and flesh laws provide. Flesh that does not support the body is a cancer that gets removed. Not so for the state constitution however. It is largely a detailed list of what the state government can do.
In the race for the governor’s seat in Louisiana (Jindal is term-limited), a U.S. Senator, current Lt. Governor, a former Lt. Governor and current Public Service Commissioner, and a Democrat legislator are all running. With the exception of the Democrat, I’d be most intrigued by the candidacy that recognizes the need for a new state constitution, has the leadership capability to keep it honest, limited, and conservative, and has the vision to see it through to the end. If they follow that up with serious statewide tax reform and a solid long-term vision for restructured transportation development in the state, then they’d have my complete support.