Filed Under:  Local

N.O. state senator calls for constitutional convention

25th April 2016   ·   0 Comments

By Christopher Tidmore
Contributing Writer

The possibility that a state constitutional convention to untangle Louisiana fiscal problems inherent in our basic law may come immediately following the prospective June Special Session. Senate Bill 393 requires that members of the legislature meet as delegates to a July 10, 2016 constitutional convention to examine the limitations placed in the current state constitution on the legislature’s ability to deal with state revenue and budget issues.

Authored by Algiers Democratic Senator Troy Carter, the bill would attempt to untangle the constitutional restrictions—along with certain state laws—that dedicate dollars to specific programs and services to such a degree that higher education and health care bear the brunt of any needed budget cuts anytime there is a deficit.



Last week, SB 393 passed out of the Committee on Senate and Governmental Affairs, and Carter expects to have a favorable hearing on the Senate floor, due to the bipartisan support his enjoys for a convention. Republicans express as much frustration with the ‘con deds’ (as they are called) as Democrats often do. Nevertheless, opponents fear that a constitutional convention could reopen issues beyond fiscal matters, or even whether Louisiana should have an income tax at all.

Sen. Carter noted in an Interview with The Louisiana Weekly that he was confident that SB 393 will pass in its current form. “I am very hopeful that we will be able to take this measure as seriously as it should be taken,” he explained. “As you know, it has been since 1974, some 41 years or so, since we have had an opportunity to have a constitutional convention, where we went in deeply and evaluated the constitution as it relates to fiscal matters. Everywhere we go, we talk about the significance of our budget crises. And, we always have to explain why health care and higher education is the consistent target. “

“Well, three quarters of the budget is dedicated. It’s constitutionally protected. So, It puts us in a position where we have nowhere else we can cut. There’s been some 183 amendments to our state constitution, and I think it’s high time that we dig in deep, really get in and do the daunting task that is really required. Seriously, methodically, go through each of those amendments, go through each of those portions of the budget, and of the constitution, to determine which one should be constitutionally protected.”

“Some of them should be, some of them shouldn’t. Some of them have been in there for many, many years, and require a review. I can’t think anything that has lived 41 years plus—that’s a living and moving document—that does not require periodic review. And, certainly our constitution, that relates to our budget and fiscal matters, certainly does.”

“We have all had the conversation with constituents who repeatedly ask us why it is that health care and higher education continually get cut. We have to explain to them that pie chart that shows so much of our available state revenue is protected and out of reach. At some point we have to ask ourselves, who is in charge of changing that? It’s the legislature. It’s our job. We cannot continue to unfairly burden the same state programs and services over and over.”

Carter acknowledged that undertaking a limited constitutional convention call is a major undertaking. Other legislators would like to see the constitution changed in multiple areas. When queried whether he really could call a constitutional convention limited to fiscal matters, the Senator replied, “I got it out of committee the other day. Now it’s going to full debate on the Senate floor. And, of course, they’re many be some who may try to attach amendments to broaden the call. I will fight against those, because we want to make sure this is very specific to fiscal and financial matters.”

“And, as I mentioned in committee—someone mentioned that’s a tough thing to do, and going into the constitution is dangerous—and my response was we were not elected to do the easy things. We were not elected to do those things that are without challenge. The people of Louisiana expect that we will go forward and do the things that are in their interest.”

“Yes, we will go forward. Yes, it’s going take a lot of time. Yes, it will be tedious and very complicated. But, if the people trusted us enough to hold these seats, then we should be willing to do whatever it takes to do their business. And, we should not be willing to ‘kick the can’ down the road and say, ‘Let somebody else do it.’ It’s our jobs, and it’s time to do our jobs.”

Nor will the call be limited to constitutional dedications, Carter explained. Since income tax rates are locked in the state constitution, they can be considered in a convention as well. “Everything from a fiscal standpoint has to be reviewed. As the Governor throughout his campaign, and many of us said through this budgetary process, everything has to be on the table. And the same thing applies to this constitutional convention.”

“Everything fiscally needs to be on the table. When we talk about our finances, when we talk about how we budget, when we talk about how we tax, we use the word reform. And, it sounds really good. But, until you are actually really willing to get into it and really start doing it, it’s just a nice cliché. It sounds good. And, unfortunately, I think too many have gotten comfortable saying, ‘We can’t do it because it’s constitutionally protected.’ It begs to be answered, ‘Protected by whom?’ Who has the power to change it? The legislature does.”

Carter accepted that in a call for major tax reform that Republicans—arguing the competitive disadvantage Louisiana has when neighboring Texas and Florida have no income tax—might try to abolish the income tax. “There is a danger we might go backwards,” but he said he was not worried. The looming nature of the fiscal crisis should keep the legislators focused on the real problems.

After consultations with the Secretary of State on the election calendar, Carter wrote Senate Bill 393 so that the governor to call an election by August 16, 2016 for voters to consider any proposed changes in the state constitution. Whether the voters will see one constitutional measure to vote up or down, or a multitude of amendments, Carter said, “I’m not a 100% sure how that will be presented at this point.”

Other critics remember that the last Constitutional Convention had elections for delegates, and was not automatically comprised of legislators. Carter defended his call that only House and Senate members would constitute the convention. “I’ve given a lot of thought to that. And, I think that the people have vetted us. We have gone through lengthy elections, debates, forums, and interviews. And, we are accountable to the people. And, I think that the people that serve in both the House and Senate have gone through the necessary vetting to be elected…and there is no better people to serve than people who already serve our state.”

He continued, “We are a microcosm of the state which we serve. So, I was very conscious to have members of the legislature do the heavy lifting of dealing with this because we deal with it everyday. No one is more intimately involved in the budgetary process, and the process of governance than those who live it 365 days a year. And, no one is more accountable.”

The Louisiana Weekly’s full interview with Carter can be found at

This article originally published in the April 25, 2016 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

Readers Comments (0)

You must be logged in to post a comment.