Louisiana voters this fall will decide whether college systems can boost their own tuition rates, whether to sock away money from oil price booms into savings and whether to rewrite the state’s corporate tax laws.
Lawmakers passed six proposed constitutional amendments during their three legislative sessions that stretched from February until June.
All the amendment proposals will be on the Nov. 8 ballot at the same time voters are choosing a new president, the person to fill an open U.S. Senate seat and the state’s six U.S. House members.
Higher education leaders have pushed for years for the Louisiana Legislature to relinquish its authority to set tuition rates across college and university campuses.
After years of unsuccessful efforts, they finally won support for a measure by Sen. Dan “Blade” Morrish, R-Jennings, to let the state’s four public college system management boards raise their own tuition and fees — if they can convince voters that they won’t hammer parents and students with repeated cost hikes.
Continued rounds of budget cuts that stripped hundreds of millions from campuses finally persuaded lawmakers to back the idea, along with a bill that stops payments from the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students from automatically growing with each new tuition increase.
If voters approve, a new trust fund would be created to help Louisiana cope with the boom and bust cycles of oil prices and corporate tax collections. It’s aimed at giving the state more stability in its budgeting.
The proposal from Rep. Walt Leger III, D-New Orleans, would steer state dollars from corporate tax collections above $600 million annually and a slice of oil and gas revenue above $660 million each year to a new Revenue Stabilization Trust Fund.
Once the fund reaches $5 billion, up to 10 percent could be spent on construction projects and roadwork but not ongoing government services and programs. Another portion of oil and gas money would pay down state retirement debt.
It’s unclear when Louisiana would reach the benchmarks that would force money into the trust fund or debt payments.
The only large-scale, permanent tax overhaul to emerge from two special sessions on taxes requires voter support to be enacted.
It would do away with a tax break that allows businesses to deduct the federal income taxes they pay from their state tax liability. In exchange, corporations would be taxed at a flat rate of 6.5 percent, rather than varying rates from 4 percent to 8 percent. The changes would take effect in 2017.
Supporters of the idea, also sponsored by Leger, said the changes would do away with an unpredictable tax break that fluctuates based on federal tax laws and simplify the state’s business tax structure. Opponents worried it could raise business taxes.
Also on the ballot
Other proposals would make it easier for lawmakers to tap into protected funds when the state faces financial troubles and would enact residency, education and experience qualifications for new registrars of voters.
Also on the ballot is an amendment that would exempt the surviving spouses of military personnel, police officers or firefighters killed in the line of duty from having to pay local property taxes on their homes. The exemption would be lost if the surviving spouse remarries.