With its well-practiced capacity for passing minor decisions on to the voters, instead of taking responsibility on its own, the Legislature has once again asked Louisiana to approve three amendments to the state constitution on the Oct. 14 ballot.
We urge voters to look at these amendments, although at least two should be rejected. Early voting begins Saturday and continues for a week, except for Sunday.
Amendment 1: Construction exemption. Yes
Traditionally, new construction is not placed on property tax rolls until its completion. But the constitution does not explicitly say that, and the tax assessor in Cameron Parish seeks to levy property taxes on construction materials used in a portion of the giant Cheniere Energy facility for exporting natural gas. The assessor and the company are in court over the issue, but homebuilders and others want the traditional system to be placed into law.
The amendment makes it clear that completed portions of a major construction project should be placed on the rolls, but that materials stockpiled for a long-term construction project are not taxable.
We urge voters to approve the amendment, although this type of law should be part of the statute books and not the constitution.
Amendment 2: Surviving spouses’ exemption. No
Everyone should be, as we are, in awe of the dedication and sacrifice of the military and first-responders to violence and accidents. But as we have before, we question adding to the state constitution — intended to be basic law, not a statute-book — another particular exemption from property taxes for surviving spouses. Version 1.0 of this was passed last year, and this year legislators curry popularity by expanding the list to additional categories of first-responders.
This affects relatively few people and the state has many ways to help the deserving without cluttering the Constitution with another property tax amendment and without usurping the authority of local agencies, like school systems.
Amendment 3: Dedication of highway funds. No
The 2017 Legislature had a chance to do something about Louisiana’s vexing transportation problems. Instead, lawmakers are offering up a largely meaningless constitutional amendment to create and protect a “construction subfund” that has no money in it — and none in sight.
A better solution might have been to raise fuel taxes, which have not increased in a generation, or at least to give voters a chance to decide the issue.
Lawmakers claim the public has no confidence in a fuel tax, because money from the current transportation fund was diverted to pay for other expenses like State Police during the Jindal administration. But we hardly need to amend the constitution to stop that. Lawmakers can simply refuse to approve that dishonest budgeting practice and they’re doing a better job now, with superior leadership from Gov. John Bel Edwards.
Louisiana has too many dedicated funds. Voters should reject this amendment and demand a real transportation solution from the Legislature.