As with many hot issues emerging during an election season, much of the recent discussion on the possibility of a constitutional convention has attempted to stoke fear and doubt amongst Louisianans. I’d like to recalibrate the debate and discuss the fundamentals of constitutions and how they apply to our current document.
The purpose of constitutions, whether state or federal, is to outline the principles and structure of how governments should operate. A good constitution must also protect the fundamental rights of its people. These principles should provide the shape and foundation of a government, while allowing elected officials to fill in the day-to-day details.
Unfortunately, the Louisiana Constitution has strayed far from this formulation. Our state’s constitution has been amended 200 times in just 45 years and dedicates more than 13,000 words on how state government should spend the taxpayers money. By contrast, the U.S. Constitution has just 7,500 words total.
The amendments passed over the years include countless funding dedications that serve to ensure the special interests from all walks get their slice of working families’ hard-earned money. On the taxing side, the amendments created provisions ranging from how the state should tax cigarettes to motor vehicles.
As a result, Louisianans have a bloated document that prevents lawmakers from doing their constitutionally appointed duty of deciding how to raise and spend money in the state.
Any objective observer should attest to the myriad issues with the current constitution, but far too many are instead using it to score political points. They fear monger and use scare tactics and hold up sacred cows like certain tax exemptions, saying they’ll be at risk if a convention comes to fruition. Any time Louisianans see talking points like this, they should be skeptical and consider the possibility that the person using them has a vested interest in the status quo.
We’ve seen where the status quo approach has gotten us in Louisiana, and it’s not pretty. Our state has experienced 0 percent economic growth in the first quarter of 2019, our students consistently rank in the bottom 10 for test scores and we’re losing residents for the first time since Hurricane Katrina. While not all of these problems can be laid at the feet of the state constitution, the constitution does obstruct efforts to enact many of the crucial reforms.
An ideal Louisiana Constitution would be one which sticks to the principles of legitimacy, brevity and clarity, structuralism, rights and judicial review and amenability. If we adhere to these principles, Louisiana can address the structural problem we face. We have a real chance to bring jobs and opportunity back to Louisiana. We cannot let the politics of fear get in the way.
CEO, Pelican Institute for Public Policy