Nonpartisan group breaks down proposed amendments to Louisiana Constitution

News
Louisiana_state_flag_1557851287564-22991016.png

BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — Interpreting the language of proposed amendments to Louisiana’s Constitution is not an easy task for many. That’s why a non-partisan group has issued a voting guide breaking down the implications of a “yes” or “no” vote on each proposed amendment that will appear on the Nov. 3 ballot.

The Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, which aims to highlight important state issues through objective and accurate research, created the 21-page guide. Here’s a summary of what it determined about each proposed amendment:

Amendment 1: No Right to Abortion

Voters will vote “yes” or “no” on the following ballot question:

“Do you support an amendment declaring that, to protect human life, a right to abortion and the funding of abortion shall not be found in the Louisiana Constitution?”

Abortion is legal in all 50 states, but Louisiana’s Constitution doesn’t address the issue at all. Despite this, some argue that rights to privacy or due process may be interpreted to include the right to have an abortion.

Amendment 1 holds that no one can interpret any part of the Constitution in a way that allows for abortion rights or securing funding for abortions.

A “yes” vote on the amendment will affirm that no part of the Constitution, regardless of how someone may try to interpret it, ensures abortion rights. The amendment makes no exceptions for the victims of rape or incest or for women facing death as a result of a pregnancy.

A “no” vote will not change anything in the Constitution, nor will it bar a certain interpretation of the Constitution.

Amendment 2: Oil and Gas Well Assessment

Voters will vote “yes” or “no” on the following ballot question:

“Do you support an amendment to permit the presence or production of oil or gas to be included in the methodology used to determine the fair market value of an oil or gas well for the purpose of property assessment?”

Severance taxes are the only taxes constitutionally permitted on oil and natural gas, the guide explains, and Louisiana laws make it difficult for assessors to value oil and natural gas wells for purposes of property tax assessment. Assessors currently cannot consider the income a well may produce or the gas it contains when determining a well’s value.

A “yes” vote on the amendment will allow the production of an oil or gas well to possibly be included in the methodology used to determine the fair market value of a well for property tax purposes. If the amendment passes, a tax burden will occur, as low producing or shut-in well may be assessed less, and wells with more production potential may be assessed more. Although the amendment would not affect severance taxes, it could cause some parishes to receive more or less in property taxes.

Assessors and people involved with the oil industry have said adopting the amendment would not result in an increase in taxes, but the Legislative Fiscal Office has stated that an effect on local tax bases is speculative, according to the guide.

A “no” vote on the amendment will keep the current methodologies concerning assessing oil and gas wells the same.

Amendment 3: Rainy Day Fund and Disasters

Voters will vote “yes” or “no” on the following ballot question:

“Do you support an amendment to allow for the use of the Budget Stabilization Fund, also known as the Rainy Day Fund, for state costs associated with a disaster declared by the federal government?”

The Budget Stabilization Fund, or the Rainy Day Fund, gives Louisiana’s government a cushion when it faces financial issues. The amount of money the government can use from the fund is limited, and tapping the fund requires a vote from two-thirds of each house of the state legislature.

Currently, the Louisiana Legislature is not allowed to tap the fund during times in which the federal government declares a disaster in the state. The amendment seeks to extend the government’s ability to use money from the fund.

A “yes” vote on the amendment would allow the state government to tap the fund when there is a federally declared disaster, such as a major hurricane.

A “no” vote will continue allowing the government to only tap the fund in times of financial hardship.

Amendment 4: State Budget Expenditure Limit

Voters will vote “yes” or “no” on the following ballot question:

“Do you support an amendment to limit the growth of the expenditure limit for the state general fund and dedicated funds and to remove the calculation of its growth factor from the Constitution?”

The Louisiana Constitution, which requires that the state government has a balanced budget and immediately remedies any deficits, holds that the amount of money spent on state appropriations cannot exceed the amount of revenue money the state expects to collect. The guide explains that state appropriations also cannot exceed a constitutionally
mandated expenditure limit, which can fluctuate from year to year based on the average Louisianan’s annual income.

A “yes” vote on the amendment would create a new state budget spending limit with probable slower growth, according to the guide. If passed, the amendment will require the state legislature to create a procedure determining the expenditure limit, and the procedure would not allow the growth factor to exceed 5%. This growth factor would be the average of the 3-year average growth in Louisiana personal income, the change in Louisiana’s GDP, inflation and population change. 

A “no” vote on the amendment would not alter the current method the state legislature uses to determine expenditure limits.

Amendment 5: Payments instead of property taxes

Voters will vote “yes” or “no” on the following ballot question:

“Do you support an amendment to authorize local governments to enter into cooperative endeavor ad valorem tax exemption agreements with new or expanding manufacturing
establishments for payments in lieu of taxes?”

The Louisiana Constitution calls for annual assessments and the levy of local taxes on businesses and residential properties, the guide explains. Exceptions to paying ad valorem taxes, or property taxes, must be approved within the Constitution, but the Industrial Tax Exemption program, or ITEP, is an exception to the Constitution, allowing a 100% exemption for up to 10 years for manufacturing projects. The Louisiana Board of Commerce and Gov. John Bel Edwards recently restructured ITEP to provide an 80% exemption for up to eight years of manufacturing. This also gives local government bodies the authority to deny exemptions, according to the guide. 

A “yes” vote on the amendment would allow local government bodies and manufacturers to negotiate deals for payments in lieu of taxes for new projects. This means they could negotiate funding schedules rather than waiting 8 to 10 years for ITEP periods to end.

A “no” vote would leave the current system as is. Opponents of the amendment reason that the proposed change would give manufacturers greater tax breaks, being that they would pay less taxes under the proposed system than they would after ITEP periods expire. 

Amendment 6: Expanded property tax freezes

Voters will vote “yes” or “no” on the following ballot question:

“Do you support an amendment to increase the maximum amount of income a person may receive and still qualify for the special assessment level for residential property receiving the homestead exemption?”

Louisiana property tax assessments are frozen, meaning they do not increase for homeowners with certain income levels who fit at least one of the following criteria: are at least 65-years-old, are disabled veterans, are totally disabled or are surviving spouses of military members who died on in action. Also to have their property tax assessments frozen, homeowners’ annual incomes cannot exceed $77,030, according to the guide.

A “yes” vote on the amendment would increase the income limit to $100,000. 

A “no” vote would keep the current income limit for property tax freezes.

Amendment 7: New fund for unclaimed property protection

Voters will vote “yes” or “no” on the following ballot question:

“Do you support an amendment to create the Louisiana Unclaimed Property Permanent Trust Fund to preserve the money that remains unclaimed by its owner or owners?”

When people have claims to money they do not know about, the government holds their money in the Unclaimed Property Program, and the government attempts to notify people of the money they can reclaim from the program. This money, also called unclaimed property, can come in the form of unclaimed bank accounts, insurance payments, energy bill excesses and other rebates. When new monetary collections exceed the amount that rightful owners claim each year, the money is allocated elsewhere. Louisiana law requires that $15 million of the excess funds in the program go toward Interstate-49 bond payments. About $25 million in excess funds go toward administrative costs. Remaining excess funds can go into the state general fund for government spending, the guide explains.

A “yes” vote on the amendment would create the Louisiana Unclaimed Property Permanent Trust Fund, which would only be used for claim payments. Any unclaimed money left over at the end of the year would remain in the fund, rather than being allocated elsewhere by the government. If claims exceed collections in a year, the treasurer could use the money from the fund to pay the claims. 

A “no” vote will keep the current program, which allows extra money from it to flow into the state’s general fund. Unclaimed Property Program, which has existed in the state for nearly 50 years, has never received more claims than collections in a single year, according to the guide.

Proposition to allow sports betting per parish

Most types of sports betting in Louisiana is illegal, carrying consequences of a $500 fine or up to six months in prison. The only permitted sports betting is online fantasy sports contests, which are only legal in the parishes that voted to permit it in 2018.

A “yes” vote on the proposition would allow for sports betting in the parish in which the voter lives, however the ability to participate in this type of gambling will not be permitted until state laws and regulations change to allow for it. If the proposition is passed, it will, in time, legalize a form of gambling that people already illegally participate in. State and local governments would be able to regulate and tax sports betting if it becomes legal.

A “no” vote would forbid sports betting in a voter’s parish. Opponents cite the fact that Louisiana is the fifth most gambling addicted state in America, according to the guide.

 

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Latest BRProud Articles

More Local News

Stay up to date with the latest news by downloading the BRProud App from the App Store or Google Play.

Trending Stories