Sunday, July 14, 2024

8 proposed amendments to the Louisiana Constitution: What you need to know

by BIZ Magazine

Congratulations. If you’ve clicked through a link to read this, you’ve already done more homework than many Louisiana voters when it comes to learning more about the eight proposed amendments to the state constitution on the Nov. 8 ballot.

In the spirit of efficiency inside the voting booth, let’s stop patting one another on the back and jump right into an analysis of the amendments. This commentary isn’t meant to be all-encompassing, so some additional sources at the bottom are included if you’d like more information  

Amendment 1: Increasing state stock investment caps

At some point, lawmakers thought it wise to limit how much the state could invest in the stock market, but these constrictions are now evidently costing Louisiana money. The proposed amendment would raise that ceiling for four specific funds.

Right now, only 35% of proceeds from the Louisiana Quality Education Trust Fund, the Millenium Trust, the Artificial Reef Development Fund, the Marsh Island Refuge Fund and the Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge Trust and Protection Fund.

The state treasurer manages these investments and is forced to sell off profitable stocks when growth of the fund’s portfolio exceeds the 35% limit. That’s basically the opposite of what an individual investor would do if they want to extract the greatest return from their shares.

The amendment would increase the equity investment cap to 65%, which the treasurer’s office says will allow for greater profits while not overexposing the state funds to market volatility.

Amendment 2: Homestead exemptions for disabled veterans

The proposed change to the constitution would continue a series of exceptions to ease the property tax burden of military veterans with significant disabilities. 

In addition to the existing homestead exemption on the first $7,500 of a property’s assessed value, current law gives 100% disabled veterans another $7,500 in consideration. This amendment would repeal that structure.

In its place, staggered exemptions would be created to benefit veterans deemed partially disabled. The break would be an additional $2,500 for someone 50% to 70% disabled, $4,500 for disabilities from 70% to 99%, and a total exemption of a property’s assessed value for a veteran who is 100% disabled.

Amendment 3: Civil service employees and political campaigns

Government employees who are in a state or local civil service system currently aren’t allowed to prominently support the campaigns of political candidates. The proposed amendment would remove this prohibition for workers who have a family member running for office.

The proposal defines relatives as spouses, children, parents, grandparents, siblings and their step-equivalents. Families could appear in political advertisements and commercials if the amendment is approved. 

Employees of local registrars of voters and staff with the Secretary of State’s elections division would be excluded from the changes. 

Amendment 4: Waiving water charges from infrastructure damage

It’s illegal in Louisiana for the state or any local government to give away something of value for free, no matter how deserving the recipient or insignificant the cost. It’s why you see cities auction off outdated office furniture and vehicles well past their prime. 

The policy is meant to protect the public’s investment, but there’s a glitch in the policy that backers of the amendment say is doing more harm than good. 

All too often, we hear about public utilities that bill customers for far more water than they actually use. A broken meter or leaky pipes leads to the exorbitant charge, and it can be far from a simple process to correct the overbilling. 

Amendment 4 would allow a local government to waive charges of the water lost if the issue involves public infrastructure. The waiver would not apply if an act of a property owner – or the failure to act – is to blame for the water loss.

Amendment 5: Avoiding maximum property millages

If I were to predict which of the eight amendments might fail just because voters will struggle to figure out what it does, Amendment 5 would be the clear winner.

Let’s use an example to explain this: a fire district that has voter authority to collect up to 2.5 mills in taxes over 10 years to pay for new trucks and equipment. That “up to” part is important here because not all taxing entities will collect the maximum.

Instead, the fire district will adjust the actual millage to account for increases in property values. So if those values go up, the millage can be rolled back, let’s say to 2.1 mills, and the district will still collect the same amount in taxes. The upside for property owners is that they don’t see a big jump in their tax bills.

Over the 10-year lifespan of the millage, the fire district may never actually need to collect the full 2.5 mills. But if they want the ability to do so in the future when they ask voters to renew the tax, they have to roll forward to that maximum at some point before its original expiration date. The property owner then faces a higher bill, and the district ends up with a revenue surplus and no real need to spend it. Now the fire department faces tough questions about how it manages its finances.

The amendment will do away with the need to max out a millage before it expires. 

Amendment 6: Orleans Parish assessments

Let’s avoid pulling you into the weeds of the property assessment process in Orleans Parish, which comprises the entirety of the city of New Orleans. I live here and, believe me when I tell you, it’s an exhausting endeavor to explain the methodology.

In short, the inexact, evolving science of Orleans property valuations results in wide variations for some property owners. It’s not uncommon to see increases in assessed value jump 50% or higher over a four-year period.

The city’s legislative delegation wants to be able to ease taxpayers toward higher rates, rather than cram it all into the ensuing year’s bill. Amendment 5 would limit valuation increases to 10% annually over a four-year phase-in period. Plus, any loss in tax revenue as a result of the phase-in would have to be absorbed by the taxing body; it couldn’t just look to pass the liability on to other taxpayers.       

Amendment 7: Prohibiting slavery and involuntary servitude

Louisiana is one of four states – Oregon, Tennessee and Vermont are the others — with a measure on this fall’s ballot to formally outlaw slavery. Colorada, Nebraska and Utah voters have already approved the ban.

One exception under Louisiana’s proposal would be for the “otherwise lawful administration of criminal justice,” according to the legislation that created the amendment. This means incarcerated people could still be forced to perform labor. 

Amendment 8: Recertifying homestead exemptions for the disabled

Like Amendment 2, this proposed change is aimed at making the property tax exemption process easier for the disabled population. 

Additional valuation breaks are available to property owners who are considered to have a service-related disability rating of at least 50%. People 65 and older as well as the survivors of military members who are killed in action also qualify for the additional benefit.

Amendment 8 would exclude anyone found to be 100% disabled recertify from the annual recertification process required to obtain the exemption.

The Public Affairs Research Council is finalizing its guide to the amendments, which is a valuable source of information for voters. The Illuminator will add a link to it here when it comes out later this month.

The Louisiana Legislature also has an overview you might find helpful, especially if you trace the amendments back to their originating legislation and review the committee hearings where the proposals were debated. But we did that so you don’t have to.

Finally, you won’t be done with amendments for the year after Nov. 8. Three more are on the Dec. 10 ballot, and we’ll break them down for you well before then.

Greg LaRose is editor of the Louisiana Illuminator

You may also like

Update Required Flash plugin