Opinion – Marty Carlson: 2016 Constitutional Amendments

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2016 Constitutional Amendments

It’s along about this time every year that we should all become very familiar with what state lawmakers think would benefit Louisiana through bills filed for the annual regular legislative session. This session is no different than those past – over 1,200 bills have been filed and of those, 61 are proposed constitutional amendments.

Electronic media makes it very easy to study lawmakers’ yearly offerings, although often the respective individual rationale or lack thereof for a particular proposed law isn’t so evident. But contacting lawmakers is made ever so simple with use of the Louisiana Legislature’s website which very easy to navigate. So interested citizens – and we should all be very interested in state government’s plans — are encouraged study up on the 2016 legislative session.

In the meantime, here are a couple of proposed constitutional amendments BPT readers may want to take closer look at. House Bills 131, 243, and 645 by Reps. Patrick Connick (Dist. 84), Paul Hollis (Dist. 104), and Neil Abramson (Dist. 93) and Jim Morris (Dist. 1) all propose a similar constitutional amendment that require all the sales and use taxes levied by a political subdivision of the state to be collected by a centralized collection – namely the state Department of Revenue, effective July, 2017.

Presently taxing bodies within a parish agree to a single collector – in the parish. That means that taxes are collected and distributed on a timely basis. But the proposed constitutional amendment would send taxes collected and destined for local government entities to Baton Rouge and returned to local governments – and there is not a whisper of the turnaround time for those collections to get back to local governmental entities.

Putting the use and tax receipts of local governments at the mercy of a band of lawmakers — the same folks that collectively assisted the previous governor’s administration in the creating the nearly indescribable morass that we call a state budget — is about the worst idea that’s come out of the state legislature in decades. Local governments don’t need to wait for a delay in receipt of sales and use tax revenues to pay their bills; the current system serves quite effectively.

On the off chance that any of these three bills make it to serious hearing by lawmakers, local legislators should be forewarned that anything less than a solid “no” vote will be dimly viewed by local voters. On the other hand, serious consideration for how we see the future of higher education and the number of higher education institutions in Louisiana is the focus of Rep. Thomas Carmody’s (Dist. 6) HB 169 – and should be give thoughtful and serious consideration by voters.

Voters looking for a short primer on the issue of Louisiana’s excess of college campuses can start with Elizabeth Crisp’s eye-opening Advocate article titled “Are There Too Many Universities in Louisiana?” It’s an informative piece that ought to be a wake-up call for many voters / taxpayers.

We must address the issue of higher education redundancy and realign and streamline the various higher education systems, or continue devastating cuts to the various and far too numerous elements of Louisiana’s higher education system. In the not too distant future, that self-defeating scenario will ensure that Louisiana’s prospective college students look outside the state for higher education opportunities, as well as employment prospects.

Voters will want to seriously consider Carmody’s bill – as well as a similar prospective constitutional amendment authored by Rep. Rick Edmonds’ HB 152. Of course, the 2016 legislative session is young, and these as well as other proposed constitutional amendment considerations and regular bills could find their paths into the legislative abyss of forgotten suggested laws. But on the off chance that a proposition to move to state “central” collection of sales and use taxes, and of a beginning to reconciling the state’s annual higher education funding dilemma, along with other vital concerns, voters should be well-versed in these issues.

And there’s no time like the present for voters to review what lawmakers are proposing – and to begin forming well studied opinions about which way to vote on any such issues that make it to a ballot.

Marty Carlson is a
columnist for the BPT.
She may be reached at
martycarlson1218
@gmail.com