Voters to consider 7 amendments to Louisiana Constitution on Nov. 3

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People use voting booths at a pooling station during general elections in Gibraltar, Thursday Oct. 17, 2019. An election for Gibraltar’s 17-seat parliament is taking place Thursday under a cloud of uncertainty about what Brexit will bring for this British territory on Spain’s southern tip. (AP Photo/Javier Fergo)

An increase in the homestead exemption ceiling is among the matters voters will consider

BATON ROUGE, La. (WDSU) – If the Louisiana Constitution was an automobile, it would be one that’s regularly in the shop for work – some of it critical, some of it cosmetic, much of it politically influenced.

Since it rolled off the assembly line in 1974, the state charter has been amended 197 times. That number is likely to surpass 200 after Louisiana voters consider seven proposed constitutional amendments on Nov. 3.

Amendment #1

There is no specific mention of “abortion” in the Louisiana Constitution. A vote for Amendment #1 would change that, adding language that the right to an abortion is not protected in the state. A vote against it leaves the law as is.

Abortion is protected by federal law. Unless the Supreme Court overturns the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, this amendment is largely symbolic. If justices allow the ruling to stand, Louisiana’s constitutional amendment could create legal battles that might ultimately involve the Supreme Court.

Amendment #2

Local property taxes on oil and gas wells have been a contentious point for parish assessors, who’ve battled with industry over whether their value should be based on their output or the value of the actual equipment. Assessors largely feel a newer producing well should be valued higher than one that’s abandoned or offline.

Amendment #2 would allow the output to be factored into valuations and has the support of oil and gas interests, although an exact formula for these calculations is still in the works. Louisiana law only allows severance taxes to be collected on oil and gas. The new property valuation method would be, in effect, a new tax, which requires a change to the constitution. Opponents say this is one example of many why Louisiana’s state charter needs a total overhaul.

Amendment #3

Louisiana has a Budget Stabilization Fund to tap into when revenue for the state budget hits lean times. It’s commonly called a rainy fay fund, and backers of Amendment #3 want to be able to use it whenever the federal government declares a natural disaster. Their argument is that access to the fund would allow the state to spend money during these emergencies immediately with the guarantee that Washington will reimburse it.

Opponents say the fund was created to address fiscal crises in Louisiana, which aren’t as frequent as weather-related ones. The concern is that using the stabilization account too frequently could deplete it. Plus, opponents point out that any revenue shortfall that occurs as a result of a devastating storm can already be handled through the rainy day fund.

Amendment #4

The Louisiana Legislature has to approve a balanced budget every year, meaning the state can’t spend more money than it makes. That won’t change, but Amendment #4 would limit how much more the state could spend from year to year, in an attempt to force budgetary belt tightening that hasn’t really taken place in the past.

The problem with the amendment, according to opponents, is that it doesn’t apply to constitutionally protected portions of the budget. That means higher education and health care will continue to be most vulnerable to resource cuts. Plus, there’s already a limiting formula in place for the state budget, and there’s no guarantee the version in Amendment #4 would be lower.

Amendment #5

Tax breaks are the typical enticement governments use to attract businesses and manufacturers. Amendment #5, if allowed, would add another lure to Louisiana’s economic development tackle box. It would allow local governments to expand their use of payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT). Instead of paying property taxes over a set period, a business would make regular payments to the local government – typically less than they would have paid in taxes.

Supporters of the amendment say it puts more decision-making power in local hands, letting them negotiate a front-loaded PILOT that could address immediate fiscal needs. Opponents worry that the 25-year maximum period allowed under the law could ultimately be too costly in terms of tax revenue. Plus, a law that’s still fairly new already allows local authorities to negotiate advance property tax payments.

Amendment #6

Amendment #6 would raise the income ceiling to qualify for a homestead exemption on property taxes in Louisiana to $100,000. It’s currently around $77,000, meaning any household making more than that cannot have their valuation frozen for the sake of calculating their taxes. Homeowners 65 and older, the disabled and spouses of military veterans killed in duty also currently qualify for the freeze, provided they fall below the income limit.

Nine out of 10 Louisiana residents who’ve had their assessments frozen are 65 and older, and amendment proponents age 65 is no longer an accurate retirement threshold. They want working seniors in dual income households to get the same tax break. Opponents say the existing exemption is already benefiting the people who need it; expanding the homestead exemption would deny additional tax revenue from local governments.

Amendment #7

The state treasurer manages an Unclaimed Property Program, which is where money from utility deposits, forgotten bank accounts and insurance payments lands when their rightful owner can’t be found. So much unclaimed property has amassed over decades that when less is claimed than the state collects, the treasurer can move the excess to meet other state needs.

The current treasurer expects higher claims from the public, thanks to technological improvements, which would in turn limit the amount put into the state’s general fund. Amendment #7 would create an Unclaimed Property Fund for excess collections, and interest from the account could go into the state general fund. It should be noted that the Unclaimed Property Program has never paid out more than it’s collected in its 50 years of existence. Opponents fear pulling what’s been reliable money from the general fund could lead to budget cuts.

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