Election Ballot Yes and No Choices

In addition to electing a governor and six other statewide officials, plus state lawmakers and scores of local officials, Louisiana voters on Oct. 12 will decide the fates of four proposed amendments to the state constitution. The proposed amendments have received scant attention during this political season, yet each in its own way would change the fundamental law of the land in Louisiana if adopted.

Herewith our analysis and recommendations:

Amendment 1 would prohibit local property taxes on raw materials, goods, commodities and articles stored for maintenance if those items are destined for the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). This proposed amendment is offered to clarify the law and avoid conflicting applications of local property taxes. Supporters of the amendment argue that subjecting OCS-bound items to local taxes violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which bars states from taxing interstate commerce. They also argue that taxing those items hurts the state’s energy industry and puts Louisiana at a competitive disadvantage to states that do not tax such items. We agree with the proponents and recommend voting YES on Amendment 1.

Amendment 2 would allow the state’s Educational Excellence Fund to finance public TV and three additional schools. The fund is part of the Millennium Trust, which was created in 1999 to support excellence in educational practices. The state Department of Education oversees the fund and proceeds can be distributed only to elementary and secondary schools and special schools that meet certain criteria. Amendment 2 would add three deserving schools and the Louisiana Educational Television Authority to the list of authorized recipients. The amendment also would remove an outdated provision of the constitution that is no longer in force. We recommend voting YES on Amendment 2.

Amendment 3 would authorize the state Board of Tax Appeals to rule on whether certain taxes and fees are constitutional under Louisiana or U.S. law. The Board of Tax Appeals is a three-member quasi-judicial body that is part of the executive branch. It hears appeals from rulings by the state Department of Revenue; it does not rule on property tax issues. Amendment 3 follows the example of other states that let taxpayers have their entire tax dispute heard in one forum, without having to mount separate constitutional challenges. The board’s decisions could still be appealed to state courts. We recommend voting YES on Amendment 3.

Amendment 4 would allow the City of New Orleans to create property tax exemptions for residential properties that provide affordable housing. Developments with more than 15 units and short-term rental properties would not be eligible. New Orleans has a critical shortage of affordable housing, and this amendment effectively establishes a pilot program that, if successful, could be replicated in other towns and cities across the state. The amendment gives New Orleans flexibility to make future adjustments without the need for additional constitutional amendments, and it contains appropriate safeguards. We recommend voting YES on Amendment 4.

For non-partisan information on the proposed amendments, including arguments for and against each proposed change, check out the Public Affairs Research Council’s analysis at www.parlouisiana.org. Early voting runs Sept. 28 through Oct. 5, except for Sunday, Sept. 29.

This is a commentary from Gambit, produced independently from reporters at the paper.