Thursday, November 03, 2016

2016 Election Recommendations

Source: Public Domain
I’m often asked for my take on elections, probably because of my involvement in the local political scene. In previous years I would give my recommendations on candidates for specific offices, but several years ago I stopped doing that. Partly because I often know so many of them and have friends that support opposing candidates - awkward! So in the last few years I’ve essentially limited my recommendations to Constitutional Amendments, mainly because they are often hard to understand, and only occasionally have I spoken about a candidate or cause I feel strongly about. But because of the importance of this year’s election, I’m going to dabble a bit in some of the races before jumping into my thoughts on the amendments.

Used by permission - Creative Commons 4.0
This year we have several important elections, including the President of the United States. And for me, that’s a humdinger! On the one hand there is a very experienced candidate running on a platform that as a Christian I simply cannot support (abortion, same-gender marriage, euthanasia, etc). On the other hand, there is a first-time candidate running on a platform I support, but whose personal morality makes it difficult to wholeheartedly endorse. Some Christian leaders suggest that we vote our conscience and select a 3rd-party candidate whose moral lifestyle demonstrates the values they espouse. At the same time, other respected Christian leaders call on us to look at the consequences of an election when realistically only 2 candidates have a chance of winning – and those who vote their conscience essentially take a vote away from a platform they support, reminding us that the winner of this election will select Supreme Court justices (who serve for life). I find both arguments compelling and at the end of the day I urge you to pray and ask God to guide you in your vote, remembering that ultimately it is God who puts leaders in authority (Dan 2:21; Rom 13:1) – and He uses His people to do it!

Louisiana will also elect a US Senator this year, but with 24 candidates on the ballot I’m pretty sure there will be a run-off. I’ve met several of these candidates and have a lot of respect for many of  them. I tend to lean towards John Fleming, Charles Boustany and Rob Maness. (I know you can only vote for one, but they’re pretty good choices - take your pick!)

Source: Wikipedia
In the 5th Congressional district for the US House of Representatives incumbent Ralph Abraham is running for reelection and I feel he has been responsive and done a good job. I’ve met him on several occasions and feel he is truly interested in serving people, not making a name for himself. His background as a doctor certainly helps in these difficult days of medical insurance changes. I have no reservations about recommending the reelection of Congressman Abraham.

The election for Judge in the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal has two fine candidates who would each do a great job. Van Kyzar is the current District Attorney in Natchitoches Parish and Chris Peters is the current District Court Judge for the 28th Judicial District Court in LaSalle Parish. Both are fine men and every attorney I’ve spoken with says that either would make a great choice. It’s nice to have an election where you can’t make a bad choice. I might be flipping a coin in the voting booth on this one! ;)

Source: Candidate's website
In the race for the open District 4 seat on the Public Service Commission I wholeheartedly endorse Reldon Owens. I’ve known Reldon for many years and have served on committees with him regarding infrastructure and economic development, and he just “gets it.” I believe he would do a tremendous job as our Public Service Commissioner and can recommend him without hesitation. I’ve met the other two candidates in the race, and they are also compelling candidates. But my personal history and experience with Reldon, watching him work for the good of Central Louisiana as part of the Governor’s Transportation Task Force, Chairman of the Board of the Cenla Chamber of Commerce, on the board of the Central Louisiana Economic Development Association, his involvement in the Rapides Area Planning Commission, Metropolitcan Planning Organization and the Central Louisiana Beltway Commission, plus his heavy involvement in his local church and supporter of civic and school organizations all combine to make him a well-rounded leader in touch with the people most impacted by decisions of the PSC. I’ll definitely be voting for Reldon and hope you will too.

And now to the Constitutional Amendments! (At least this year there are only six!!!) These amendments can be confusing, and sometimes you have to vote no to get a positive effect, and vice-versa! I use the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana’s non-partisan guide as my primary source of understanding, but even it can be confusing. So here’s my take on each Amendment, with my reasoning further below:

1.       Amendment 1 – Establishes new requirements for local registrars of voters. NO.
2.       Amendment 2 – Tuition and fee autonomy to college management boards. YES.
3.       Amendment 3 – Eliminates federal income tax deduction for corporations on state tax returns and sets a flat rate. NO.
4.       Amendment 4 – Property tax exemption for surviving spouses of persons killed in the line of duty. YES.
5.       Amendment 5 – Creates a Revenue Stabilization Trust Fund. YES.
6.       Amendment 6 – Adjusts threshold for tapping protected funds. NO. YES.
Now let’s take a look at each one a little closer….

1.       Amendment 1 – Establishes new requirements for local registrars of voters. NO.
Voting is becoming more and more complex with rule-changes to keep up with and technology to stay ahead of. This amendment would essentially add additional qualifications to those seeking to temporarily serve as registrar of voters office in the event a vacancy occurs: bachelor’s degree and 2-years full-time professional work experience, or, an associate degree and 4-years full-time professional work experience; or seven years of full-time professional work experience; or, five years of full-time employment in a Louisiana registrar’s office.
While this amendment looks good on the face of it, my concern is that sometimes it is difficult, especially for rural parishes, to find people who meet these new criteria who are willing to serve, especially in what could be a temporary position. Currently all registrars are already required to take regular extended education classes to maintain qualifications for the job and these new criterion could be crippling for some small jurisdictions. I recommend a NO vote.

2.       Amendment 2 – Tuition and fee autonomy to college management boards. YES.
Louisiana has had difficulty funding higher education but also is one of only two states that do not allow colleges to set their own tuition and fee levels. And it’s the ONLY state that requires a two-thirds vote to change tuition and fees. This creates a huge bottle-neck and public universities are struggling. This amendment will allow universities to price themselves in a competitive manner, and perhaps even charge different tuition rates for different types of education, depending on actual costs. The tuitions still have to be approved by boards that are appointed by the Governor and approved by the Senate, so there is still some governmental oversight, but the logjam is broken up by giving each university more autonomous control. I recommend a YES vote.

3.       Amendment 3 – Eliminates federal income tax deduction for corporations on state tax returns and sets a flat rate. NO.
This is a bit of a complex issue, and I can see people coming down on either side of it. In essence what this amendment does is eliminate the ability of businesses to deduct the amount paid if federal income taxes from their state income and adjusts the tax rate from a tiered rate from 4%-8%, depending on income, to a flat 6.5% rate for all businesses. So larger businesses would actually gain a little more by reducing their effective tax rate from 8% down to 6.5%, but smaller businesses would see their tax rate increase from 4% or 5% to 6.5%, all the while losing a deduction that they have come to depend on. So while this amendment could potentially generate an additional $200 million for the state books, it appears to do so on the back of small businesses. While I’m all for a simplified tax system, I don’t want to see mom & pop businesses penalized in the process. I recommend a NO vote.

4.       Amendment 4 – Property tax exemption for surviving spouses of persons killed in the line of duty. YES.
This is a no-brainer to me. This amendment allows a property tax exemption for the surviving spouse of a person who died while on active duty, whether it be a member of the US armed forces, the Louisiana National Guard, state police, law enforcement or fire protection officer. The spouse would receive a 100% exemption on the full assessed value of the home (until death or remarriage). The impact of this exemption will be minimal on taxing authorities, but will be substantial for the families of those grieving the loss of a loved one who gave their life in the service of others. I wholeheartedly recommend a YES vote.

5.       Amendment 5 – Creates a Revenue Stabilization Trust Fund. YES.
Here is another complex amendment, and my attempt to make it simple. The State of Louisiana maintains a “Budge Stabilization Fund” (or an “emergency fund” in Dave Ramsey’s world) that is made of mineral revenue funds after certain dedications are met and portions are put into the general fund. This amendment re-allocates some of the excess mineral revenues from the general fund to be used to reduce debt and invest in infrastructure (or “debt snowball” in Dave Ramsey’s world). This will force some fiscal restraint on the legislature and require the State to pay down debt and invest in infrastructure before putting money in the general fund, where it could be used for anything. This will help our credit rating, potentially lower our debt obligations, and in the long run put Louisiana on a more stable financial footing. I recommend a YES vote.

6.       Amendment 6 – Adjusts threshold for tapping protected funds. NO. YES.
One more complex amendment dealing with money. And by now my brain hurts, so I hope this makes sense! In times of several financial downturns the constitution allows the state to “raid the piggy bank” by “sweeping” certain protected funds, up to 5% of each fund’s balance. This new amendment adds several new funds to the “sweepable” list and creates an easier to reach trigger. In fact, it could potentially allow the state to sweep the funds (“break the piggy banks”) even if revenues are projected to INCREASE, in certain situations. This amendment would have us going to the piggy banks more and more often, resulting in one day not having a piggy bank to go to! I recommend a NO vote. If you'll notice above I said that my brain hurt after reading all the complex details of the amendments. After I published the info above I was contacted by a reputable source who told me that this amendment would protect the supplemental pay for police and fire personnel, which would keep them from being political pawns in future budget battles. I had to go dig into the actual language of the bill (SB 201, Act 681) to find it, but it's in there, along with four other funds (Coastal Protection Fund, Hospital Stabilization Fund, Oilfield Site Restoration Fund, Conservation Fund) that will now be protected from sweeps. I still think this is not the best bill, as it makes it easier for funds to be raided on rainy days. And I think the authors of the bill knew this, so they found some funds to protect that would bring large constituencies to support the amendment, such as the law enforcement and firefighter communities. However, even though I think the general concept is not the best, my support for law enforcement and firefighters causes me to rethink my position and recommend a "Yes" vote. I recommend a YES vote.

Well there you have it. For what it’s worth, those are my recommendations, which you’re free to accept or ignore. I promise you that you’ll definitely get your money’s worth out of them – or a complete refund of the purchase price, if not fully satisfied! ;) And no matter how you feel on the matter, please don’t forget to vote! It’s both a right and a responsibility of citizenship!

And if you don’t live in my voting district, Louisiana residents can get your custom sample ballot by simply going to https://voterportal.sos.la.gov/Home/VoterLogin - just input your info and you’ll find every option on your ballot this next Tuesday!

BTW, if you have any thoughts or think I overlooked something, please don’t hesitate to comment and let me know. I enjoy the feedback and look forward to some good dialog!


Edited .... here's a great video that really highlights how I feel about the election:
https://www.facebook.com/life.church/videos/10154552043823796/
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