VOTE 2020: Constitutional Amendments explained

By Will Phillips | Minden Press-Herald

This November, on top of voting for the United States president, citizens of Louisiana will be asked to vote on a handful of amendments on a variety of different topics. Below the amendments, along with what a yes or no vote means, are explained.

CA NO. 1 (ACT 447, 2019 – HB 425) – Relating to Declaring There Is No Right to and No Funding of Abortion

This Amendment is being voted on on order to add new language to the Louisiana Declaration of Rights regarding the state and abortion. It would specifically add the phrase as Section 20.1 to Article I, “To protect human life, nothing in this constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.”

This essentially declares that the Louisiana Constitution cannot be interpreted as securing or protecting a right to abortion or requiring the funding of abortion.

A YES vote for this amendment would be in support of adding this phrase to the Louisiana Constitution, and a NO vote would be in opposition.

CA NO. 2 (ACT 368 – HB 360) – Amends Determination of Fair Market Value of Oil or Gas Well

This measure would amend section 4(B) of Article VII of the Louisiana Constitution. This amendment would allow for the presence or production of oil and gas to be taken into account when assessing the fair market value of an oil or gas well for ad valorem property tax purposes.

A YES vote for this amendment would support the fair market value (for property tax purposes) of oil and gas wells taking into account the presence or production of oil. A NO vote would be in opposition, essentially saying one does not agree that the presence of oil and gas should not be taken into account.

CA NO. 3 (Act 367 – HB 267) – Amends Use of Budget Stabilization Fund

Amendment 3 would allow the Louisiana State Legislature, through a two-thirds vote in each chamber, to use up to one-third of the revenue in the Budget Stabilization Fund (a.k.a. Rainy Day Fund) to cover the state’s costs associated with a federally-declared disaster.

The fund, created in Oct. of 1990, receives revenue from the state’s general and dedicated funds if it exceeds the expenditure limit. Access to using these funds is currently tied to budget forecasts and deficits. Specifically, “When the official forecast of recurring funds for the next fiscal year is less than the official forecast of recurring funds for the current fiscal year.”

Those that are in support of the amendment argue that the current circumstances for being able to use the Budget Stabilization Fund are too stringent, and aim to make the Rainy Day Fund” more accessible during the time of emergency. Louisianan State Representative Gary Carter Jr., sponsor of the measure stated, “We can’t access our ‘rainy day’ fund when we have a true rainy day.”

Those in opposition of the amendment argue that the circumstances during which to use the Budget Stabilization Funds are adequate as they are, and prevent the state from tapping into the fund too frequently.

The Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, when summarizing the potential opposition to this amendment, stated, “This new method of tapping the fund would be used way too frequently and undermine the original purpose and function of the Rainy Day Fund, which is to temper the state budget in times of revenue surges and boost the budget when revenue unexpectedly falls or economic cycles turn downward. The fund is already designed to handle state financial problems appropriately even in the case of disasters.”

A YES vote for this amendment would be in support of making the Rainy Day Fund more accessible to use during federally declared emergencies. A NO vote would be in opposition of this and in favor keeping the rules for using the Rainy Day Fund as they are presently.

CA NO. 4 (ACT 366 – HB 464) – Limits Expenditure Limit for State General Fund

Amendment 4 would change the formula that Louisiana uses to determine how much they’re able to spend in a fiscal year. Currently Louisiana’s Constitution limits spending growth by “not exceed(ing) the expenditure limit for the current fiscal year plus an amount equal to that limit times a positive growth factor as provided for by law. The growth factor is the average annual percentage rate of change of personal income for Louisiana … for the three calendar years prior to the fiscal year for which the limit is calculated.”

This amendment would change that formula to one that does not allow for more than 5 percent growth per year.

Those in support of this amendment argue that the old formula didn’t truly limit Louisiana from increasing it’s spending because of the compounding effect that was built into it, and that this new formula will better keep Louisiana from spending outside it’s means.

Those in opposition to this amendment argue that this new formula would dampen Louisiana’s ability to increase spending if needed, and that it only addresses the symptom of government overspending and not the core issue. The Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana stated, “ this new system will make the Legislature’s options less flexible. This amendment seeks to treat the symptoms of budget growth without curing the root problems. State government is ultimately constrained by the amount of revenue it receives. If citizens want to shrink government, the proper remedy is to elect people who will do so.”

A YES vote would be in favor of changing the expenditure limit formula to no more than 5% growth per year. A NO vote would continue to use the existing formula.

CA NO. 5 (ACT 370 – SB 272) – Authorizes Cooperative Endeavor Tax Exemptions

This amendment would authorize new manufacturing establishments or additions to existing manufacturing establishments to enter into a cooperative endeavor agreement with a taxing authority to make payments to the taxing authority instead of paying property taxes.

The in support of this amendment argue that, “It gives local governments an additional, optional tool for incentivizing business investment and empowers local governments to negotiate a more “front-loaded” funding schedule for local needs,” according to the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana.

Those in opposition argue that this is another way for manufacturers to circumvent paying their fair share of taxes, as the amount paid will be based on negotiation, rather than traditional property taxes.

A YES vote for this amendment supports amending the state constitution to authorize local governments to enter into cooperative endeavor agreements with new or expanding manufacturing establishments and allows those establishments to make payments to the taxing authority as opposed to paying property taxes. A NO vote would be in opposition of this.

CA NO. 6 (ACT 369 – HB 525) – Increases Income Limit for Homestead Exemption Special Assessment Level

This amendment would increase the income threshold that seniors, military, and disabled persons need to earn below in order to qualify for the Homesteadexemption special assessment level for residential property. Currently the threshold sits at $77,030.36, and this amendment would raise it to $100,000, thereby allowing more people to be considered for this special assessment.

A YES vote agrees that the threshold for seniors, military, and disabled persons applying Homestead Exemption Special Assessment Level to be increased to $100,000. A NO vote would keep the current threshold at $77,030.36.

CA NO. 7 (ACT 38, 1st ES – SB 12) – Creates Louisiana Unclaimed Property Permanent Trust Fund

The amendment would create the Unclaimed Property (UCP) Permanent Trust Fund, with its purpose being to be a trust holding the payment claims made by owners of abandoned property.

It will also require that all funds above administrative costs received due to the Uniform Unclaimed Property Act of 1997 (or its successor) will be allocated to the UCP Permanent Trust Fund until the amount is equal to the state’s estimated unclaimed property potential liability.

It would also allocate any additional unclaimed property receipts and any investment revenue from the fund to the state’s general fund as well as authorizing the treasurer to invest up to 50% of the UCP Permanent Trust Fund in equities.

Those in favor of this amendment argue that putting Unclaimed property into a trust fund ensures that the property is protected for the citizen should they choose to reclaim it. The money allocated into the fund would also generate interest earnings which have the potential to generate money for the state budget.

They also argue that “This new fund is needed because the recent increase in returns to claimants has created a cash flow issue in the Treasurer’s office. Twice the escrow fund has temporarily run dry resulting in a slowdown of payments,” the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana states. This amendment is a way for them to alleviate the cash flow issues within the Treasurer’s office that have arisen from improvements in their ability to find the owners of unclaimed property.

Those opposed to this amendment argue that there are other ways to alleviate the Treasurer’s Office cash flow issues through state law, and that the return seen from the investment made with the funds could take years before they come to fruition. Public Affairs Research Council stated that in 2019 there was “excess of about $12 million after dedications,” under the current system.

A YES vote supports that the UCP Trust Fund should be created and the treasurer should be allowed to invest up to 50% of the Fund in equities. A NO vote means one does not think this Fund should be created.

PW Sports Wagering – Authorize Sports Wagering Activities – Act 215, 2020

This measure asks each person to vote for whether or not they want to allow sports betting in their parish. If a majority support sports betting, it will be allowed after state laws are passed that provide regulations of the activity.

A YES vote supports allowing sports betting to take place in their respective parish. A NO vote opposes allowing sports betting to take place in their respective parish.