Editorial: Don't gloss over constitutional amendments
Whether you’ve already voted early or have plans to trek to the polls Nov. 8, be sure to do your homework before fulfilling your end of the Democratic process. Especially when it comes to the easily overlooked constitutional amendments buried on the ballot.
There are two such amendments Wyomingites will decide on in this year’s general election.
Amendment A allows cities, counties, towns, school districts and other political subdivisions to invest money in stocks and equities. This is something the state has done in some capacity since the 1990s but local agencies have been unable to, due to Wyoming law.
Approval of Amendment B would increase the mandatory retirement age for judges from 70 to 75. There is no mandatory retirement age for federal judges, but within individual states, the age restrictions vary.
There are 17 states with no mandatory retirement age and 15 states with 70 as the cutoff. The other states have restrictions between 70 and 75, except for Maine, where judges can work through the year they turn 90.
With each of these amendments, a non-vote is as good as a no-vote. Passing an amendment requires a majority from all voters in the election, meaning that to not mark one way or the other equates to a vote against it.
There are pros and cons to extending the mandatory retirement of judges, although at least locally, without any judges at the retirement age, it doesn’t seem of great consequence either way.
The investment amendment, however, could have much greater immediate and long-term effects.
Wyoming has invested in equities from its permanent funds since the 1990s. In 2016, a voter-approved amendment gave the state even more flexibility, allowing it to invest its state agency pool, including hundreds of non-permanent funds, into stocks and equities.
Right now, local agencies and boards are limited in the areas they can invest. Depending on which board it is and who holds those seats that could be a good or bad thing.
A commonly mentioned duty of elected officials is their “fiduciary responsibility” to “steward” taxpayer dollars. Under the current law, the ability to exercise that responsibility in the long run through investments is significantly restricted.
Again, it creates potential for very positive or very negative outcomes. The current system caps the long-term upside on what may be higher risk, higher yielding investments, but it also mitigates the downside. Some elected officials are barely treading water in their current positions. Do you want them pinning their own political careers to the whims of the market?
Maybe that’s an extreme example. The amendment gives entities more investment tools to work with, which when attempting to diversify economies while dealing with a fledgling and unpredictable one, those would be handy tools.
Campbell County Health, for example, has about $70 million invested through the Wyo-Star state investment pool, established for local entities, where it’s been earning about 1 percent, officials said at a recent meeting. No one needs reminding of how high inflation has risen, or how minuscule a 1 percent return is for anyone, let alone anyone with $70 million sitting around.
Still, the organization has other options at hand, but it likely behooves them to wait until the outcome of the election to decide what to do with those dollars.
This election allows the public to choose new elected officials as well as how much financial autonomy they can operate with. The latter point may be easy to gloss over when bubbling in your ballot, but it raises the stakes for all other elected positions hanging in the balance.