Five proposed changes to the state constitution are on Saturday’s ballot.
One would dedicate more dollars to the popular TOPS college scholarship program and renew a state cigarette tax.
Another aims to help state government work toward fully funding its retirement systems. Yet another would fix an alleged technical problem with the state’s “rainy day” fund.
The amendments are on the ballot below races for governor and other statewide offices.
Barry Erwin, president of the Council for A Better Louisiana, said several of the amendments deal with legitimate public policy issues.
“I know people get tired of constitutional amendments, and they sometimes seem arcane and almost incomprehensible, but I think in this case they’re all pretty straightforward if voters do just a little bit of homework,” Erwin said.
CABL, a nonpartisan group that studies state issues and lobbies the government, supports all of the amendments.
Another organization, the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, only backs amendments involving the Patients’ Compensation Fund and the “rainy day” fund.
State Rep. Kevin Pearson, R-Slidell, said he is hopeful that Proposed Constitutional Amendment No. 2 will pass.
Pearson sponsored the amendment, which would commit at least 5 percent of nonrecurring state revenue to reducing state retirement systems’ debt beginning in fiscal year 2014.
The percentage would jump to at least 10 percent after the first two years.
Nonrecurring revenue occurs, among other ways, when state revenue exceeds expenditures, resulting in a surplus.
The amendment targets the debt of the Louisiana State Employees’ Retirement System and the Teachers’ Retirement System of Louisiana.
The debt, largely resulting from benefits exceeding state government contributions years ago, is referred to as unfunded accrued liability, called UAL.
The biggest systems were short $18 billion in 2010 to pay all benefits, if they had to do so. Pearson said the systems’ debt accounts for one of the highest interest rates that the state pays.
He said debt payments soon will begin to consume larger chunks of the state budget unless something is done to reduce them.
“My goal is just not to leave it to my kids and grandkids,” Pearson said.
Gov. Bobby Jindal is promoting Proposed Constitutional Amendment No. 1, which would dedicate more tobacco settlement dollars to the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students.
Initially, the amendment would generate an additional $48 million for TOPS by capping the amount of money that flows into the Millennium Trust Fund from the tobacco settlement.
Any funds in excess of $1.38 billion would go toward TOPS.
Tied to the TOPS funding increase is the renewal of a 4-cent state cigarette tax.
Legislators tacked the renewal onto the amendment after Jindal vetoed legislation that would have continued the 4 cents. Constitutional amendments do not cross the governor’s desk.
Also on the ballot:
• Forbidding legislators from paying the state’s expenses with money from the Patient’s Compensation Fund, which is designed to lower medical malpractice insurance costs.
• Fixing a flaw in the state’s “rainy day” fund, also called the Budget Stabilization Fund, to prevent an automatic repayment when money is withdrawn during economic downturns.
• Keeping intact an exemption for New Orleans regarding tax sales.
The amendment is necessary because New Orleans’ population diminished after Hurricane Katrina.