Competing version on the ballot could doom the Better Schools, Better Jobs amendment
Legislators, per Mississippi law, have the ability to place on the ballot a competing version of any citizen-sponsored, proposed Constitutional amendment.
When the current statute regarding citizen initiatives to amend the Mississippi Constitution was written and passed in 1992, it was done in a way that ensured that legislators – not voters – have the last word. The process clearly is rigged in favor of legislative power.
Here’s how it works:
Mississippi has an “indirect” initiative process, which means that registered voters can initiate a Constitutional Amendment, but before the people’s initiative is placed on the ballot, the Legislature has an opportunity to propose a competing measure that will appear on the ballot alongside the original initiative. The catch, and the tip toward legislative power, is in the numbers.
To express their wishes on the ballot, voters must maneuver a series of complicated options. First, they can mark their ballots in favor of the approval of either measure or against both measures. Voting in favor of the approval of either measure signifies that a voter wants one of the options to be become law. Voting against the approval of both measures signifies that a voter wants both options to fail. Then, regardless of how voters mark their ballots on the first question, they can move to the second section in which they can vote FOR one of the measures or leave both blank (thereby voting for neither measure). If a majority of the votes cast on the first question is for the approval of either measure, then the measure receiving a majority of votes on the second question AND ALSO receiving not less than 40% of the total votes cast in the election shall become law. For example, if 20% of those participating in the election decline to vote at all on initiative, and if 35% vote against both measures, one of the versions would have to get at least 89% of the remaining votes in order for the measure to win approval.
On January 6, 2015, the Legislature will convene and may immediately consider and pass an alternative, competing measure that would have to appear on the ballot in addition to the Better Schools, Better Jobs school funding amendment. As is obvious from the description above, the supermajority required for adoption of one of the measures is almost mathematically impossible. It is for this reason that a competing measure put forth by the Legislature is, in fact, an attempt to subvert the will of the people.
Our founding fathers were very careful to establish a system of checks and balances so no branch would be able to exert total power over other branches of government or over the people themselves. The wise founders of our country created the judicial branch to keep the legislative and executive branches in check. Some in the Mississippi Legislature, however, seem to think themselves above the founding principles by which our country has operated for more than two centuries.
Politicians began wringing their hands over the citizen-led school funding amendment as soon as the first petitions began circulating. The publicly expressed will of the people is a scary thing for folks whose top priority is hanging onto their own power, the power to take our tax dollars and use them however they want.
One of the earliest arguments from politicians opposing the amendment was that, if legislators continue to refuse to follow the school funding law, the courts would have the authority to enforce it. A few elected state leaders said this would diminish the Legislature’s authority.
Well, yes, if they insist on ignoring the law, the courts will make them follow it. Which is exactly what parents and teachers and public school supporters of all stripes have been wanting all along. And it is exactly the process by which our founding fathers ensured a balance of power among the three branches of government.
Other elected officials say adequately funding public schools would cost too much – but we know that just isn’t true. More than enough funding is available right now to fully fund K-12 education. Some legislators simply haven’t been willing to invest it in our children’s education.
Please thank the legislators who signed the Better Schools, Better Jobs petition in support of voters’ right to speak on better school funding. Ask those who are opposing it to reject a competing legislative version. Tell them to allow the citizen-sponsored initiative to appear on the ballot free of complications, for the people to decide.