Voters face no less than seven constitutional amendments on the Nov. 3 ballot. The following are the views of this newspaper’s editorial board on each, particularly whether amendments are necessary. We urge voters to look at the issues and cast an informed ballot.
Amendment 1: abortion lawsuits – No recommendation
The Legislature has enacted, usually by big majorities, the nation's sharpest restrictions on abortion rights. This amendment seeks to limit state courts' ability to undermine those statutes should the U.S. Supreme Court return power over abortion to legislatures. It may never be invoked, given that state and federal court actions are different, but it is consistent with state law enacted over previous years. Still, abortion remains a deeply divisive issue. We take no position on the amendment, as we feel it is not needed legally. Voters should follow their consciences.
Amendment 2: drilling rigs tax assessments – Yes
The current constitution forbids using market-value assessments of rigs and production equipment in oil fields. The amendment would allow that method, under rules to be developed by the state Tax Commission. This settles long-standing disputes between industry and parish tax assessors and should help owners of small “stripper” wells in depleted fields on land.
Amendment 3: ‘rainy day funds’ for disasters – Yes
The current constitution sharply limits use of the state’s ‘rainy day’ fund for budget stabilization. The amendment allows up to a third of the fund to be used during disasters, when government needs ready cash, in part to meet mandated matches for federal aid. A two-thirds majority vote of legislators is required along with a presidential disaster proclamation. Perhaps this can be abused but we’re living in a year of major disasters that make it appealing. It should not be a reason for legislators and the governor to avoid saving cash in agencies’ accounts for disaster costs.
Amendment 4: budget restriction – No
Louisiana formally has a budget restriction amendment, which we opposed. This is another version by anti-government legislators who have been unable to convince their peers that drastically cutting services — the result of budget limits — is a good idea in a poor state that needs more spending on education, health and other needs, not wants. We want to see wiser spending, but we don’t want to see arbitrary limits on the budget. Given the inventiveness of lawmakers — as the experience in other states has shown — ways will be found around this formula, like all the others.
Amendment 5: corporate tax payments — No
If you’re a politician, you want to spend as much money as you can for four years, to get reelected. That’s the kind of short-term thinking that underlies the “payments in lieu of taxes,” or PILOT proposals like this one.
Corporate interests would be delighted to trade cash upfront to shed long-term obligations like property taxes, and local politicians will be easy marks for these deals. We believe the long-term commitment of property taxes for community services will serve Louisiana better. Louisiana is a heavy spender in property tax breaks for large companies through industrial tax exemptions; there is no need to add another layer of “incentives,” if those actually are driving business location decisions, which may be doubted.
Amendment 6: property tax exemption income — No
Legislatures past, as well as the voters, approved many special homestead property tax exemptions for deserving and politically popular constituencies — the elderly, disabled veterans and so on. These are easy for lawmakers to vote for because the money they are giving away is from local government. In addition to the homestead exemption, property assessments are frozen and do not increase.
There is, though, an income limit for getting the special homestead exemptions — originally $50,000, now up to $77,000, indexed for inflation. Legislators propose raising that to $100,000. Is this necessary when it is already rising with inflation? This is political, a nod to the wealthiest retiree households who can pay their property taxes, which in Louisiana are small bills compared to those in most every other state.
Amendment 7: unclaimed property fund — Yes
This amendment marks a compromise between Gov. John Bel Edwards and state Treasurer John Schroder, who faced off in court on payouts to the state general fund from unused cash in the long-existing unclaimed property fund. While there is a small cost to the state general fund, ultimately Schroder's department will be better able to manage the distribution of unclaimed money with a new trust fund established by the amendment.
Sports wagering — Yes
This proposition is on every parish ballot allows sports betting, under rules to be established by the Legislature and the Gaming Control Board. As with fantasy sports games, approved by 47 of 64 parishes in 2018, each parish must approve the wagering in gaming establishments in that locale. Sports wagering was approved in Mississippi, and while it is not a big revenue booster, there is no reason to have Louisiana gamblers take their business elsewhere.