A Constitution Should Provide a Framework for Governing
The Louisiana Legislature is currently in special session to deal with nearly $1 billion in budget deficits. On top of that, they will meet again in regular session to address even more shortfalls. However, the problem with our state is not necessarily fiscal, it is constitutional.
Any civics teacher will tell you, the purpose of a constitution is to provide the framework for governing. It should state the purpose of governance, and provide for the execution of that purpose. It is a relative broad document, aimed at establishing what is and isn’t allowed in the process of government. The constitution should be difficult to amend, as the necessity to change should only come in the most rare of circumstances.
At the state level, statutes are the mechanisms by which government business is conducted. They are much more specific than the articles in the constitution, allowing for modification as the need arises. While relatively easy to enact, statutes cannot come into conflict with precepts of the constitution. If they do, they are rejected by the court as “unconstitutional.” This system is relatively efficient, by government standards. However, Louisiana isn’t so “efficient.” We have literally shot ourselves in the foot.
Our current state constitution, enacted in 1974, has been amended nearly 175 times. Many of these so-called “necessary changes” to the law of the land have been shelters to protect funding for certain initiatives. Regardless of the merits of said initiatives, these actions bastardize the intent and spirit of our constitution.
So here we are. We have to make major decisions with regard to our state budget, yet our legislators’ hands are tied due to so much “protected money.” While there is talk of attempting to “unprotect” certain monies, those actions would require more constitutional amendments, and a statewide vote of the people. The chances for success of those endeavors are minimal at best.
So, what is the answer? It is simple but not easy. Louisiana needs a constitutional convention. A constitutional convention should be convened with the sole purpose of reestablishing the law of the land in the manner which it was originally intended — as a framework for governance. Fiscal items have no place in the document, with the exception of the rules of taxation and dispersement — and include a balanced budget requirement.
The document should be extremely difficult to amend. This would force funding matters to be handled via statue — which is proper. Amendments should only be enacted when absolutely necessary to the affect the fundamental process of governing the state.
This constitution would need to be ratified by the people of the state with a single “yes” or “no” vote. It would be hard to defeat such a measure as voters understand the grave circumstances we face if we don’t do something meaningful to fix our problems.
Should the new constitution pass, then legislators could get to work fixing our fiscal woes — via statute — as it should be. No longer would healthcare and education be the only choices on the table for reductions, but all budgets, etc.
As simple as this solution sounds, it is far from easy. The constitutional convention would have to be as apolitical possible — no easy feat in Louisiana. In fact, should the governor call such a convention, it may cost him a second term as those who don’t want such reform to take place will unleash everything they have to defeat it — and him.
That being said, for our state dig itself out of this mess and be poised for future growth, we must fundamentally change how we do government. This should have been done 175 amendments ago. It must be done now.
David A. Specht, Jr. is President & CEO of SNI Media. He is also 2016 Board Chairman of The Bossier Chamber of Commerce. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org