Even though it is still October, the fall election season isupon us. This Saturday, Louisiana kicks off a month of elections that willclose on November 19th. In addition to the slate of candidates forlocal and state offices, voters in the Pelican State will also decide on fiveamendments to their constitution this weekend. As we do each year, NTU tracksthese ballot measures in our GeneralElection Ballot Guide in order to give taxpayers a better idea of what theyare being asked to vote on.
The one measure with cause for concern is Amendment 1. Fromour ballotguide;
“Amendment 1 on the statewideballot would redirect future tobacco settlement funds from the Millennium Fundto the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS) scholarship. Additionally,the proposed amendment would permanently extend and place in the constitution a$.04 per pack cigarette tax set to expire next year.”
Generally speaking, state constitutions should be used tolimit what kinds of taxation are allowed, and to set limits on the level oftaxation. Rarely is the constitution used to set the specific rate. Thismeasure would make it substantially more difficult for voters or the statelegislature to reduce their tax burden in the future.
Furthermore, the Millennium Fund is Louisiana’s account tohandle Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) funds. The primary purpose ofthe MSA is to offset state Medicaid expenditures related to tobacco use.Amendment 1 would stop using future tobacco settlement payments for health careexpenditures and redirect them to a wholly unrelated program. This gets awayfrom the fundamental purpose of the MSA and taxpayers should be wary.
Fortunately, the remaining measures on the ballot are commendableefforts in fiscal responsibility. Amendment 2 would use one-time moniesgenerated by natural resource development to start paying down the billions ofdollars in unfunded state pension liabilities. Louisiana has roughly $9.5billion in legacy obligations from its pre-1988 employee retirement plans. Thisamendment is an honest effort to meet those obligations without raising taxes.Amendment 3 creates a lockbox around the Patient Compensation Fund, so thelegislature cannot raid it at will. Amendment 4, while somewhat confusing,simply sets some useful guidelines for refilling the state’s budgetstabilization fund. The last measure is a technical correction.
As we say at the top of our guide, these off-year electionscan too often be forgotten amidst the noise of the 2012 Presidential race, oreven a classic SECshowdown. Bayou State taxpayers need to be on the lookout and hopefully NTU’s2011 Ballot Guide can help.