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A Constitutional Solution to the Fiscal Cliff?


With the current trio of constitutional amendments on the ballot, voters are being asked to prohibit some taxes and lock away the proceeds of others. But doesn’t that contradict what we’ve been hearing from many state lawmakers?

“We have constitutional dedications which exceed $4-billion,” Rep. Neil Abramson has complained.

“Our hands are tied because we have dedicated funds in the Constitution,” says Rep. Franklin Foil.

“We hear so many complaints about locking up the budget with dedications, there are people who want to completely rewrite the Constitution in a constitutional convention just to stop all these dedications,” Public Affairs Research Council president Robert Travis Scott observes.

But he also notes the 1974 Louisiana Constitution has been changed considerably since it was drafted.

“We’ve added 186 amendments to it so far, and we’ve got three more possibilities.”

How do we solve the contradiction? One proposal involves holding a limited constitutional convention.

“If you wanted to address just the fiscal issues, Article VII basically is where all of the finances are,” Scott says. “There have been 93 changes just to that Article alone. And these three items that we have on the ballot are Article VII.”

A convention to revise Article VII and its many amendments is one of the ideas being discussed as a potential solution to the upcoming fiscal cliff. But, Scott says, rewriting even one article of the state constitution is a massive undertaking. And the constitutionally protected dedications include public K-12 education, coastal restoration, highway dollars, and the Rainy Day Fund so there are no guarantees  a convention will solve Louisiana’s budgetary problems.

“It’s important to manage your expectations about what you could achieve in changing the Constitution. Are your values going to change enough to make that exercise worthwhile – as far as completely altering what our financial priorities are?”