On Saturday, in addition to casting ballots in races for several statewide and parish elected positions, area voters will decide the fate of five proposed amendments to the state constitution. Voters in many parishes across Louisiana, including East Baton Rouge Parish, also will vote on a proposal to double the homestead exemption for disabled military veterans. In East Baton Rouge Parish, voters will consider proposals to expand the East Baton Rouge Parish Recreation and Park Commission and the Library Board of Control.
Here is a review of our positions on these proposed changes:
Proposed Constitutional Amendment No. 1 — Millennium Trust Fund: No.
This amendment, if approved, essentially would direct all future tobacco settlement money to TOPS, a popular tuition assistance program for college students. That would mean less money over time for other purposes for which the proceeds of this tobacco money originally were envisioned, such as health care and other education spending. Complicating this amendment is unrelated language renewing a four cents-per-pack tax on cigarettes. This provision was tacked on as a way around Gov. Bobby Jindal’s veto of the tax renewal.
We supported the renewal of the tobacco tax, but we can’t support this amendment, which essentially helps delay — and further complicates — hard political choices about TOPS’ long-term operational challenges and the program’s growing impact on other parts of the state budget.
Proposed Constitutional Amendment No. 2 — Retirement debt: Yes.
The state has several retirement funds for state workers, and these funds don’t have nearly enough money to cover future obligations. This amendment, if approved, would require lawmakers eventually to set aside at least 10 percent of nonrecurring revenue in the state budget to help address this retirement debt. That’s a modest requirement, but a good first step toward fiscal responsibility.
Proposed Constitutional Amendment No. 3 — Patient Fund: Yes.
The state has a Patient’s Compensation Fund funded by surcharges paid by various health-care providers. The fund helps pay medical malpractice claims awarded by a court through a settlement between the parties. The fund is aimed at keeping down medical malpractice insurance costs. This amendment would help prevent the fund from being used for other purposes.
Proposed Constitutional Amendment No. 4 — Rainy-Day Fund: Yes.
The state has a fund, commonly known as the Rainy-Day Fund, that is set aside to help get state government through tough budget years. This amendment gives the state greater flexibility in using the fund but important protections would be kept in place to help prevent excessive use of the fund.
Proposed Constitutional Amendment No. 5 — New Orleans Property Sales: No.
This amendment, if approved would clarify previous constitutional language to allow New Orleans to continue receiving a special exemption from certain provisions of state law dealing with the sale of property in which the owner has been delinquent in paying taxes. Whatever one feels about the merits of such an exemption, we don’t believe it belongs in the state constitution.
Disabled Veterans Homestead Exemption: No.
This is a well-meant idea that, if approved, would double the homestead exemption for severely disabled military veterans whose disability was incurred in military service. We support military veterans, but we believe parish governments can use other means to help veterans in need. Tinkering with property tax law, we fear, will lead to more proposals for exemptions for other groups, needlessly complicating tax law.
Proposed Home Rule Charter Amendment 11.02 — BREC Board: No.
Proposed Home Rule Charter Amendment 11.03 — Library Board: No.
These proposed changes would expand these local governing boards and mandate that the extra seats be designated for representatives from Baker, Zachary and Central, giving these representatives disproportionate influence on these boards. That’s bad public policy, which is why we urge voters to vote no.