Friday, October 14, 2016

Craig Ford: Reviewing the amendments on the November 8th ballot

  When voters cast their ballots next month, they will be voting on more than just the presidential race and other important offices; they will also be deciding the fate of 14 amendments to our state constitution.

  The first amendment is related to the Auburn University Board of Trustees. It changes when some of the board members’ terms expire and adds two additional members to the board. On this amendment, I recommend either voting “yes” or not voting at all.

  The second amendment is meant to protect funding for state parks by earmarking the funds currently going to the parks. In recent years, the Alabama Legislature has transferred some funds out of the parks’ budget to help shore up shortfalls in other parts of the budget. If you want to prevent the legislature from dipping into the park funds then you will want to vote “yes.” If you would rather risk cutting park funding to avoid other cuts or tax increases, then you would want to vote “no.”

  Right now, the Alabama Constitution requires some local amendments to appear on statewide ballots. Amendment three addresses this problem by allowing local amendments to appear only on local ballots as long as all legislators agree that the amendment applies to only one county or one political subdivision (such as a city) that lies within multiple counties. I recommend voting “yes” on this amendment because local voters should decide local issues.

  Amendment four gives more autonomy to county commissions and how they manage programs like their personnel system and emergency assistance programs. I recommend voting “yes.”

  Amendment five modernizes language in our state’s constitution relating to the separation of powers but makes no substantive changes. I plan to vote “yes.”

  Amendment six replaces impeachment language in the state constitution with a new version that provides more details about the process, including how many votes are needed in the Senate to impeach an elected statewide officeholder. I support this amendment.

  Amendment seven is a local amendment relating to the sheriff's office in Etowah County and whose authority the office's employees are under. I ask that you vote “yes” on this amendment.

  Amendment eight makes "Right to Work," which has been state law since the early1950s, a part of the constitution. This amendment changes nothing in state law and does nothing to help business, but makes limits on the rights of working people permanent. I plan to vote “no.”

  Amendments nine and ten are local amendments affecting only Pickens and Calhoun counties. I ask that you do not vote on these amendments and let their fate be decided by the people in those counties.

  Amendment eleven creates "Tax Increment Districts." Basically, the idea is that local county and city governments spend/borrow money to develop land for recruiting large businesses and offer tax credits to recruit businesses to their areas. Then, once the business comes, the property tax on the developed land will incrementally increase over time to repay what was spent/borrowed to recruit them. Vote “yes” if you believe the risk of local governments incurring millions of dollars in debt is worth it to try to recruit business. Vote “no” if you think the risk is too high and that counties and cities may end up borrowing money then not successfully recruiting a businesses to pay back what gets borrowed.

  Amendment twelve is a local amendment but could affect voters statewide. This amendment allows cities in Baldwin County to set up a toll road authority to build and operate more toll roads. Voting “yes” would help Baldwin finance its roadways but could also mean you pay more when you go to the beach.

  Amendment thirteen repeals age restrictions on appointed or elected office holders except for judges. Vote “yes” if you want to remove the limits; Vote “no” if you think the limits should stay.

  Amendment 14 is complicated. This amendment fixes a hole between state law and legislative rules concerning a common procedural vote. The constitution requires one number of votes for this procedural vote to pass, but the rules of the House of Representatives require a smaller number of votes. This became an issue because most legislators abstain from voting on local bills, and a court recently overturned one such bill because it did not get the constitutionally required votes needed. This amendment retroactively fixes this hole by bringing the constitution in line with the House’s rules.

  I recommend voting “yes” only because if this amendment fails, it could cause chaos and proration in cities and counties across the state, including taking away pay raises for law enforcement and stripping millions of dollars from local schools.

  About the author: Representative Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.

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