Constitution-itis is one of the worst political maladies in Louisiana. It has led to hundreds of amendments proposed, and many adopted, to put into fundamental law issues or concerns that shouldn’t be in the Louisiana Constitution. Most political questions ought to be in statutes. That allows related policy decisions to be resolved without yet another statewide public vote.
In the latest case of this malady, Gov. John Bel Edwards offered an amendment to put a new minimum wage law in the constitution. His reason is purely a political problem. GOP legislators on key committees have refused to raise the minimum wage during Edwards’ years in office, giving short shrift to one of the governor’s cornerstone policy proposals.
We have tended to agree with the legislators that a minimum wage law should be a federal standard.
Clearly, Edwards has a stronger argument for setting a state wage now than a few years ago. The majority of the states have done so, refusing to wait on a dysfunctional U.S. Congress to act to raise the wage above the current $7.25 an hour.
The governor proposes $9 an hour, but he wants to do so through a constitutional amendment, forcing a public vote on the issue.
Whatever the merits of a minimum wage hike, we don’t think it should be enshrined in an already unwieldy state constitution.
When Gov. Mike Foster, a Republican, proposed that Louisiana enact initiative and referendum laws to avoid the legislative process, we questioned those fits of populist enthusiasm, too.
On a practical level, we don’t want to be like Oregon and California, with interest groups funding ballot campaigns for all sorts of initiatives. If people think Louisiana’s biennial lists of proposed constitutional amendments are burdensome to digest, imagine what a Left Coast system would be like.
On a philosophical level, the public is ill-suited to the kind of detail work needed to craft workable statutes. A law requires not only judicious editing but a legitimate legislative process to balance the impact of differing requirements and regulations in a bill.
And on a purely political level today, getting a constitutional amendment on the ballot requires a two-thirds vote of both House and Senate, a far tougher standard than Edwards’ previous minimum wage bills.
This suggest to us that the governor’s maneuver was more political theater for the October primary, in which he is seeking reelection.
So we have several bad ideas rolled into one: constitutional mandates, a referendum on policy that ought to be legislatively decided, and a frustrated governor who wishes to subvert the regular order in an election year.
Leaving aside the merits of a minimum-wage increase, and there is good and bad in the concept, this bill ought not be passed.