More than 50 people take part in a Life Chain event Oct. 4 in Patterson. Many of the participants in the pro-life event carried "Love Life" signs in support of proposed Amendment No. 1.
The Daily Review/Bill Decker
State amendments put abortion, tax measures, spending on Nov. 3 ballot; find links to PAR, Budget Project analyses
It’s fall in Louisiana, and that means football, gumbo and constitutional amendments.
The state’s 1974 Constitution already has been amended to the point where it’s more amendment than constitution. Voters will choose whether to add seven more amendments when they go to the polls Nov. 3 or vote early beginning Friday and continuing to Oct. 27.
The topics range from the most divisive issue of all, abortion, to the formula for deciding how much money the state government gets to spend.
Here’s a list of the amendments on the Nov. 3 ballot. The accompanying information relies heavily on the Public Affairs Research Council’s often-cited guide to the amendments.
“Do you support an amendment declaring that, to protect human life, a right to abortion and the funding of abortion shall not be found in the Louisiana Constitution?”
Louisiana already has an amendment that would ban abortions here if the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision is overturned. The 1973 ruling prohibits states from outlawing abortion outright.
This amendment has more to do with what other courts might do.
Proponents say courts in other states have interpreted their constitutions as protecting the right to an abortion or upholding government funding of abortions. This amendment is designed to head off similar rulings in Louisiana.
“Do you support an amendment to permit the presence or production of oil or gas to be included in the methodology used to determine the fair market value of an oil or gas well for the purpose of property assessment?”
Currently, producers pay severance taxes on oil and gas produced, but wells are subject to local property taxes. Assessors are forbidden by the state constitution from taking the income and potential income of a well into account when determining the tax bill. That forces assessors to turn to what some consider less precise measures such as well’s market value.
The amendment would change that by allowing production to be factored into a well’s tax assessment. There’s nothing in the bill that would specifically raise taxes. But PAR’s analysis says the amendment would result in a shift of tax liability away from shut-in wells or wells that produce little to wells that are more productive.
“Do you support an amendment to allow for the use of the Budget Stabilization Fund, also known as the Rainy Day Fund, for state costs associated with a disaster declared by the federal government?”
The state government has its Budget Stabilization Fund, or Rainy Day Fund, that can be used to cover shortfalls in revenue and meet the constitutional requirement to balance the state budget. Two-thirds of both legislative chambers must agree to tap the fund, and its use is limited to the amount of the anticipated deficit or one-third of the total fund, whichever is smaller.
After a federally declared disaster such as a hurricane or flood, the federal government will often reimburse a large percentage of the state’s disaster response spending. But the required match or the need to spend up front and wait for reimbursement can put a big burden on the state budget.
The amendment would allow Rainy Day Fund money to be used for the match or up-front money. Two-thirds of both legislative chambers must still approve the use of the fund for disaster response, and no more than one-third of the fund can be used for disaster response.
“Do you support an amendment to limit the growth of the expenditure limit for the state general fund and dedicated funds and to remove the calculation of its growth factor from the Constitution?”
The Louisiana Legislature is required by constitution to balance the state budget and to limit spending to the officially determined estimate of revenue. In addition, the growth in general fund spending and expenditures in various dedicated funds is limited to a percentage that is currently based on the growth in Louisiana’s personal income.
PAR says the current growth factor is 2.97%, for example.
The amendment would require legislators to come up with a new method for determining the growth factor and to limit growth to no more than 5% in any case. Legislators would have the option of changing the growth factor each year provided two-thirds of both chambers go along.
The amendment would take effect in 2023. Under legislation designed to accompany the amendment, the growth limit for fiscal 2024 would average personal income, state GDP, the Consumer Price Index and population growth to fix the growth factor.
In fiscal 2024, the growth factor would be reduced from 2.84% to 1.77%. In 2025, it would fall from 4.59% to 3.37%.
“Do you support an amendment to authorize local governments to enter into cooperative endeavor ad valorem tax exemption agreements with new or expanding manufacturing establishments for payments in lieu of taxes?”
Currently, the constitution recognizes certain tax incentives for economic development projects. One method now in use is called Payments in Lieu of Taxes, or PILOT. Business and local governments agree that ownership of the development project would be given to a local government and leased back to the business, so the development wouldn’t be subject to property taxes. In exchange, the business agrees to a fixed payment to the local government.
The business gets certainty about its costs under the PILOT, and the local governments get more than they would under the Industrial Tax Exemption Program, which offers a property exemption for up to 10 years.
The amendment would allow PILOT projects for manufacturers without the need to transfer ownership to the local government, which PAR says could be important for existing industry seeking a tax break for an expansion. The manufacturer would still be exempt from property taxes by the government with which it has the agreement and would make PILOT payments instead.
Projects must still meet the standards under the Industrial Tax Exemption Program.
“Do you support an amendment to increase the maximum amount of income a person may receive and still qualify for the special assessment level for residential property receiving the homestead exemption?”
In Louisiana, homes eligible for the homestead exemption and owned by certain classes of homeowners are protected from increases in the assessments on which taxes are based. The classes include people over 65, the totally disabled and the surviving spouses of members of the military who were killed in action.
But the freeze applies only to taxpayers with annual incomes of less than about $77,000.
The income limit would be adjusted each year based on the rate of inflation.
The amendment would raise the income limit to $100,000.
About 180,000 Louisiana homes are eligible for the freeze, and about 90% of them are because the homeowner is over 65.
“Do you support an amendment to create the Louisiana Unclaimed Property Permanent Trust Fund to preserve the money that remains unclaimed by its owner or owners?”
Despite recent efforts by the state government, millions of dollars owed to Louisiana residents remain in state hands each year because people don’t claim money from “unclaimed bank accounts, insurance payments, energy bill excesses that were meant to be reimbursed but the original utility customer could not be found, and similar rebates,” PAR says.
Currently, money in the Unclaimed Property Program in excess of claims can be used for general state spending. By law, $15 million must, by law, go toward Interstate 49 bonds each year. Another $2.5 million goes toward the cost of administering the program.
The rest can be used for general state spending.
The amendment would create the Louisiana Unclaimed Property Permanent Trust Fund. Unclaimed money in excess of claims would remain in the fund.
The money in the fund would be invested, and the return on the investment could be used for state spending. The I-49 bond and administrative obligations would still be paid.
But the principle would remain in the fund awaiting claims by their rightful owners.
Find the Louisiana Budget Project guide to the amendments at this link. A link to a .pdf of the PAR guide appears below.