Initiative 42 Will Put Other Programs at Risk

The November vote on Initiative 42 is days away. Since it amends the state constitution, voters should carefully consider its long-term impacts. Unlike statutes that can be changed yearly, constitutional amendments last for many years.

Initiative 42 advocates say a constitutional amendment is needed to force the Legislature to fully fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP). Most state leaders say the proposed amendment goes too far.

In particular, voters should weigh how Initiative 42 will reduce legislative and executive authority while increasing judicial power over school funding.

Initiative 42 advocates say that funding for other important programs – universities, community colleges, prisons, mental health, and economic development to name a few – will not face major cuts, nor will taxes have to be increased, to fully fund MAEP because funding can be phased in over seven years.

Unfortunately, this statement is only true during a phase-in period. It is not true over the long haul.

You see, whatever date full funding of MAEP kicks in, the constitution, as proposed by Initiative 42, will mandate full funding every year thereafter, including an upward adjustment for inflation.

At such time, future growth of MAEP funding will put other programs at risk and tax increases in play.

This will occur in years when state revenue growth is stagnant and during recessions.

As a constitutionally mandated entitlement program, MAEP funding will become protected from cuts. Thus, when stagnant revenues won’t cover inflation-adjusted MAEP funding and keep other programs whole, the Legislature will be limited to cutting other programs or raising taxes. When a recession pushes mid-year revenues below projections, the Governor will be limited to making cuts to other programs.

These are real consequences with long-term impacts that voters should consider.

Most likely, if the initiative passes, the courts will not only decide if, when, and how full funding of MAEP will take effect, but also whether the State can sue for permission to cut MAEP funding when revenue shortfalls occur.

That’s because the constitutional amendment proposed by Initiative 42 says, “The chancery courts of this State shall have the power to enforce this section with appropriate injunctive relief.”

Initiative advocates downplay this provision, saying state law already subjects legislative action to judicial review. But, voters should be aware that putting this language in the constitution is extraordinary and invites court activity beyond normal judicial review.

No-one can predict the long-term consequences of giving the judicial branch power over school funding. Voters should consider the potential impact of this change.

Let me inject one personal point. People like me who have attended and sent our children to public schools, voted for school bond issues, and favored increased school funding should not be intimidated into voting for Initiative 42 if we think it goes too far. A flawed amendment causing long-term havoc can be worse than the status quo.

Voters should carefully consider the long-term impacts of Initiative 42 as they prepare to vote on November 3rd.

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