By David Jacobs | The Center Square
Louisiana voters on Tuesday rejected a constitutional amendment meant to limit government spending growth, but the proposal’s author plans to try again next year.
“We got bucked off the horse,” said Rep. Beau Beaullieu, a New Iberia Republican. “It’s too important not to get back on.”
Current law includes a spending limit that compounds each year and seldom comes into play during the budget process. Amendment 4 would have capped annual spending growth at 5 percent and added other factors meant to make the limit more restrictive.
The changes would not have cut the state’s budget but would have made it more difficult for lawmakers to increase state government spending. Lawmakers would have been able to lift the cap with a two-thirds vote in both chambers, so if a majority of legislators wanted to spend enough to exceed the cap, a minority would have been able to block that effort or demand concessions in exchange for their votes.
Though lawmakers in theory can reduce or freeze state spending, in practice, spending always increases from year to year, Beaullieu said.
“If it’s never going to decrease, we need to have a reasonable expectation of what the growth should be,” he said.
Amendment 4 was difficult to explain in simple terms, which helps explain why it failed, Beaullieu said. He also blamed opponents who made it sound like the amendment would cut the state budget, which is not the case.
But Broderick Bagert, lead organizer with Together Louisiana, has another theory: Legislators are more in tune with business lobbyists than their own constituents. He noted that Amendment 4, along with Amendment 5, which would have created a new type of business tax break, were soundly defeated at the polls despite winning easy approval at the State Capitol. The other five proposed amendments all passed.
“The legislature, and especially the Republicans, reflects the constituency of LABI [the state business lobby], not the constituency of their members,” he said.
Together Louisiana opposed Amendment 4 but didn’t actively fight against it, preferring to focus their fire on Amendment 5, which was trounced by a margin of 37 percent for and 63 percent against. Amendment 4 went down 44 percent to 56 percent.
Legislators are elected to make budget decisions, and they should be free to do so based on the facts on the ground without arbitrary constraints, Bagert argues. He believes state government should spend more on important services such as education. If lawmakers repealed Louisiana’s many corporate tax breaks, they could afford to increase spending without raising taxes on individuals or the vast majority of businesses, he says.
Daniel Erspamer, who leads the Pelican Institute for Public Policy and was an outspoken supporter of Amendment 4, said he was “more optimistic than ever” that state spending can be reined in.
“The defeat of Constitutional Amendment 4 does not signify the end of our efforts, but the beginning of a new chapter,” he said in an email to the think tank’s supporters. “Now is the time for you and I to continue pressing on and getting even louder in our demands for the changes we need to truly move Louisiana forward.”
Jan Moller with the Louisiana Budget Project, which also opposed the amendment, says tight spending limits can hinder a state’s recovery from a recession, such as the current COVID-19 downturn, by forcing cuts to services when revenue bounces back.
“From these economic depths, Louisiana can likely expect a period of rapid growth as the economy returns to normal,” Moller said in written testimony to the House Appropriations Committee. “With this amendment, you would almost certainly need a two-thirds vote to pass a budget when growth picks up – essentially handing veto power to a minority of members in either house.”