editorial (2006-42)

Metro Pulse Endorsements

Amendments to the state Constitution and city and county Charters

Metro Pulse Endorsements

The Nov. 7 general election ballot contains two constitutional amendments and several amendments to Knoxville’s city Charter and the Knox County Charter. Voters should familiarize themselves with those amendments before entering the voting booth and vote their consciences on each amendment item.

First on the ballot is Constitution Amendment 1, a thoroughly reprehensible initiative that would restrict the state’s legal institution of marriage to a contract between one man and one woman. It would also provide that any other marriages authorized by other states or foreign jurisdictions would not be recognized as legal in Tennessee.

It is a blatant attempt to deprive under the Constitution a class of people of their civil right to a legal marriage contract. Such homosexual marriages are already illegal under state statute, but that can be changed relatively easily. The Constitution has an air of permanence because it is difficult to alter, by design. Don’t tamper with it for reasons of personal or religious sentiment.

It is one thing for religious groups or churches to refuse to sanctify a marriage for any reason under their religious precepts. It is quite another for the state to discriminate against gay and lesbian Tennesseans by denying them the right to a civil marriage, licensed and performed by a civil servant.

If this amendment should pass, remember that you could be a member of the next class of citizens to be denied a fundamental legal and constitutional right that is held by everyone else who votes to exclude you from the enjoyment of full citizenship in this state.

Vote No on Amendment 1.

The second constitutional amendment would authorize counties and municipalities to freeze the property-tax amount owing to them on a principal residence by anyone who is 65 or older. It would let the local jurisdictions decide whether to exempt senior citizens from property-tax increases, benefiting those on fixed incomes the most.

Such a plan has been put into effect in other states and is a reasonable way to assist older persons to meet their ordinary, day-to-day living expenses.

Vote Yes on Amendment 2.

The Charter amendments on the ballot for Knox County may or may not have an effect, dependent on whether the state Supreme Court validates the Charter, but voters should regard them as though the Charter is valid. Amendments 1, 2, and 3 are housekeeping amendments to define or redefine public offices and their duties and to clear up a primary-election question. They should be passed.

Vote Yes on Knox County Charter Amendments 1, 2, and 3.

The fourth amendment to the county Charter would bring the sheriff’s uniformed officers’ pension plan up to conformity with the city of Knoxville’s police officers’ pension plan.

It’s only right that sheriff’s deputies and city police officers should be entitled to similar pensions, but it is a costly measure to institute at this time and would require a tax increase or reductions in other county outlays.

The cost is estimated to be at least $57 million, with a property tax impact of an estimated 8 cents on the current rate of $2.69 per $100 of assessed valuation. The alternative would be cuts in county services or less outlay for salaries for all county employees.

If it’s worth that to you as taxpayers, Vote Yes on County Charter Amendment 4.

The city also has four Charter amendments on the ballot. Amendments 1 and 4 are essentially housekeeping amendments under the city pension system and have no costs or tax consequences. Amendment 2 provides for a pension benefit option for some city employees that would cost about $1.1 million, or $135,000 per year over the next 13 years, and Amendment 2 would restore a cost-of-living benefit increase to public school teachers who remained under the city’s pension plan when the city turned the schools over to the county 18 years ago. Those teachers’ pensions’ cost-of-living benefit was “sunsetted” three years ago as a cost-saving measure before former Mayor Victor Ashe left office. The consequence to city taxpayers of restoring the benefit would be about $21 million, or $240,000 a year over the next 15 years, but would not necessarily cause a tax increase or budget reductions.

Vote Yes on City Charter Amendments 1, 2, 3, and 4.

These are our recommendations. We endorse each constitutional or charter amendment except Constitutional Amendment 1, which we sincerely hope does not pass.

Take the amendments as seriously as you would any election to public office. Consider them carefully and vote, either from now until Thursday Nov. 2 at one of the early voting sites around the county or at your polling place on election day, Nov. 7.