Voters face no less than seven constitutional amendments in the November 3 ballot. Here are the opinions of this journal’s editorial board on each, particularly if edits are needed. We urge voters to consider the issues and vote wisely.
Amendment 1: abortion lawsuits – No recommendation
The legislature enacted, usually by large majorities, the nation’s toughest restrictions on abortion rights. This amendment seeks to limit the ability of state courts to undermine these laws if the US Supreme Court returns power over abortion to the legislatures. It can never be relied upon, as state and federal court actions are different, but it is consistent with state law enacted in previous years. Yet abortion remains a deeply divisive issue. We take no position on the amendment, as we believe it is not legally necessary. Voters must follow their conscience.
Amendment 2: tax notice on drilling rigs – Yes
The current constitution prohibits the use of market value appraisals of oilfield production rigs and equipment. The amendment would allow this method, under rules to be developed by the State Tax Commission. This settles long-standing disputes between industry and church tax assessors and should help owners of small “stripping” wells in depleted fields on land.
Amendment 3: “rainy day fund” for disasters – Yes
The current constitution severely limits the use of the state’s “rainy day” fund for fiscal stabilization. The amendment allows up to one-third of the fund to be used in disasters, when the government needs cash, in part to meet mandatory federal aid counterparties. A two-thirds majority vote of lawmakers is required as well as a presidential proclamation in the event of a disaster. It may be abused, but we are living in a year of major disasters that make it attractive. That shouldn’t be a reason for lawmakers and the governor to avoid saving money in agency accounts for disaster costs.
Amendment 4: budget restriction – No
Louisiana officially has a budget restraint amendment, which we opposed. This is another version of anti-government lawmakers who have failed 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 to education, health and other needs, not wants. We want to see smarter spending, but we don’t want to see arbitrary limits on the budget. Given the inventiveness of legislators – as the experience of other states has shown – ways will be found around this formula, like all the others.
Amendment 5: payment of corporation tax — No
If you’re a politician, you want to spend as much money as possible for four years to get re-elected. This is the kind of short-term thinking that underpins “payments in lieu of taxes,” or PILOT proposals like this.
Corporate interests would be happy to swap cash in advance to get rid of long-term obligations like property taxes, and local politicians will be easy targets for these deals. We believe that the long-term commitment of property taxes to community services will best serve Louisiana. Louisiana spends heavily on tax breaks for large corporations through industrial tax exemptions; there is no need to add another layer of “incentives”, if these really drive business location decisions, which is questionable.
Amendment 6: Property tax exemption income — No
Past legislatures, as well as voters, have approved many special property tax exemptions for deserving and politically popular constituencies — the elderly, disabled veterans, and the like. It’s easy for lawmakers to vote for these, because the money they give comes from local government. In addition to the homestead exemption, property assessments are frozen and do not increase.
There is, however, an income limit to qualify for the special exemptions on homesteads – originally $50,000, now up to $77,000, indexed to inflation. Lawmakers are proposing to increase this amount to $100,000. Is it necessary when it is already increasing with inflation? It’s political, a nod to the wealthiest retirement households who can pay their property taxes, which in Louisiana are small bills compared to those in most other states.
Amendment 7: Unclaimed Property Fund — Yes
This amendment marks a compromise between Governor John Bel Edwards and State Treasurer John Schroder, who clashed in court over payments to the state’s general fund from unused money from the unclaimed property fund. existing for a long time. Although there is a small cost to the state’s general fund, Schroder’s department will ultimately be better able to handle the distribution of unclaimed money with a new trust fund established by the amendment.
Amendment 8: Sports betting — Yes
This proposal appears on each parish ballot paper allowing sports betting, according to rules to be established by the legislature and the gaming control commission. As with fantasy sports games, approved by 47 of 64 parishes in 2018, each parish must approve wagering at gaming establishments in that locality. Sports betting has been approved in Mississippi, and while it’s not a big revenue booster, there’s no reason for Louisiana players to do their business anywhere else.