Leader Blues

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

EDITORIAL >>Propositions explained

The ballot that you pick up on election day or during the early voting period carries three propositions generously referred to you by the General Assembly that will seem as opaque as a bond indenture. One of them sort of is.

Two of the three propositions are complicated and highly controversial, though little has been said in the public prints about any of them. There will be slight opportunity in the voting booth to divine exactly what they do because the popular names and ballot titles are shortened versions of the actual proposals and are largely unfathomable.

So we proceed to tell you what proposed Amendments 1 and 2 and Referred Question 1 would do and our own judgment about what you should do with them. We recommend adoption of proposed Amendment 1, the simple proposition, and defeat of the other two. They are far-reaching enough that they at least deserve thoughtful consideration. (See full text of propositions on p. 14A.)

Amendment 1 would do little more than clean up the old Constitution in a few places by eliminating some ancient language dealing with elections that are now either pointless, long since abrogated or confusing. For example, it would delete old language barring “idiots” and “insane” people from voting and references to the old voting age of 21. It would give the legislature authority to prescribe the qualifications of people who work as election officials. There seem to be no clinkers in it.

You can safely vote “aye.”

Amendment 2 would make a big change. It would direct the legislature to meet every year in regular session, not every two years as the case is now. The legislature would have to adopt appropriations for every state agency every year. Now the legislature meets in odd-numbered years and adopts budgets for each of the two following years for each state program.

The annual budget sessions would be costly, an invitation to mischief and, more to the point, needless. Biennial budgeting still works well. Sure, there are instances in which fiscal emergencies are not foreseen two years ahead and the legislature must return to fix a budget for the second year of the biennium. But the state has dealt with those situations for many years by special sessions, which the governor may call at any time. There is no evidence that this practice has cost Arkansas a dime in federal matching revenues or impaired any state service.

The amendment’s adoption would introduce us to a full-time professional legislature for the first time. Arkansas’ affairs are not so complicated and grave that we need full-time lawmaking. Someday maybe, but not 2009.

If the amendment simply provided more flexibility in meeting times than the old Constitution provides, we could support it. Vote against this one.

Referred Question 1 would let the state Natural Resources Commission borrow $300 million for water projects, up to $100 million of which could be used for irrigation work to help rice farmers in the Grand Prairie, whose farming practices have depleted the water aquifer.

That debt should not be a trifling thing to you, the taxpayer. The debt would be repaid from your sales and income taxes for the next 35 years — off the top each year before a dime is paid to the public schools, colleges or the other essential state services. The proponents say the debt would be repaid from receipts generated by the water projects, but there would have to be substantial payments from general revenues. A previous water bond issue is taking $6 million a year from the general fund.
It is not a good time for the state to be borrowing $300 million. Think twice before voting for Referred Question 1.