Amendments

Louisiana voters will decide on seven amendments to the state constitution and several other local propositions when they cast their ballot on Nov. 3.

The amendments will determine things like Louisianians’ access to abortion, the market price of oil wells, taxes on local businesses and the allocation and spending of state funds.

For more information, the Public Affairs Research Council (PAR) of Louisiana put out a detailed guide on all seven amendments.

Amendment 1: Declaring no right or funding of abortion in the constitution

Amendment 1, if it is passed, would say the state constitution explicitly does not protect a person’s right to an abortion.

The amendment comes in at a time where the state is almost setting up for the Roe v. Wade decision to get overturned.

Louisiana already has a trigger law — or legislation that would go into effect as soon as the Supreme Court decision would be reversed — doing the same thing, but the amendment would prevent any judge from ruling that a residents’ rights were being denied.

Amendment 1 is one of the more frequently discussed amendments, with campaigns both for and against it. Several University of Louisiana at Lafayette students have joined the campaign against the amendment by running social media accounts on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Kimberly Meikalike, a junior biology major, manages the Instagram account @votenoul.

“Engagements been really high because the election is coming up really soon and early voting is happening,” Meikalike said. “A lot of people have been messaging us on the account how they’re really happy with what we’re doing and how they’re happy that they’re getting educated about this stuff, which is really important and I’m glad I’m a part of this.”

Amendment 2: Oil and gas wells and property assessment

When it comes to taxing a well in Louisiana, the assessment is mostly placed on what is above the ground. Amendment 2, if passed, would broaden a well’s assessment of what resources lie beneath it.

The PAR amendments guide says, “The intent is not to raise or lower taxes on oil and gas wells in general. However, a shift in tax burden would occur.”

Basically, if a well is not expected to produce a lot of oil or gas, it could be assessed less than those that would produce more.

Although the oil industry says the change would not raise taxes, according to the PAR amendment guide, dissenters of the amendment say: “... the Legislative Fiscal Office stated that any effect on local tax bases is speculative. Some parishes could receive more in property taxes while others could receive less as a result of this amendment.”

Amendment 3: A rainy day fund for federally declared disasters

The state has a Budget Stabilization Fund it can use in an emergency when it's short on revenue, and this amendment, if passed, would allow the legislature to use those funds in ways beyond just the fiscal emergency.

Although the amendment was written before the long-lasting 2020 hurricane season, it’s coming in following destruction to Lake Charles during Laura, as well as damages elsewhere from multiple other hurricanes.

If the amendment passes, the legislature could pull out up to one-third of the fund and put it towards whatever they’d need to put it towards. To extract the funds, both congressional houses must reach a two-thirds vote, and that would still apply under this amendment.

Amendment 4: Limiting state spending

The state legislature is restricted on how much money it can spend based on a growth factor, which is described in the Constitution. This amendment, if passed, would allow the legislature to adjust how the growth is calculated as well as imposing a 5% ceiling on the growth factor compared to the previous year.

There’s a lot going on with this amendment. First of all, to change the formula the legislature would have to reach a two-thirds vote. The companion statute with the amendment is to take into account GDP, personal income, inflation and population, which would grow more slowly than what is currently in the constitution.

Secondly, the 5% limit places would make the state government more steady and controlled.

“Louisiana government grows at either an unpredictable rate or too fast,” PAR says of the argument in favor of the amendment. “Once a budget is increased, it is politically difficult to cut it. State government spends every tax dollar it gets and when times get tough politicians either resort to budget gimmicks or raising taxes.”

However, the argument against says the amendment wouldn’t actually guarantee a more efficient government, only greater constraints on it.

“Limiting the growth will disproportionately affect those areas that are not protected by fiscal provisions in the Constitution, primarily higher education and healthcare,” PAR says of the argument against.

Amendment 5: Reducing taxes on manufacturers

Amendment 5, if passed, would allow manufacturers to negotiate deals with governmental bodies to pay upfront in place of being taxed on new projects or expansions.

The amendment is designed to incentivize manufacturers into building by giving them a cheaper option to do so. The payment agreement would be whatever is decided between the manufacturer in question and the local taxing authority, but the manufacturer would maintain ownership of the property.

Businesses already have access to ITEP, or the Industrial Tax Exemption Program, which currently allows the taxing authority to exempt 80% of the business’s taxes for up to 8 years.

They can also use PILOTs, or payments in lieu of taxing, in which the government takes complete ownership over a title and leases it back to the business.

PILOTs generally give more money to the government up-front than ITEPs, but with ITEPs the business maintains ownership instead of it going to the government.

What this amendment will change is local authorities can offer manufacturers the benefits of the PILOT (the agreed tax exemption could last for up to 25 years) without having to lease the project back to them.

“It’s just an additional tool to give local governments more power or more ability to incentivize business investment,” G. Pearson Cross, Ph.D., an associate political science professor, said. “They can cut better deals through this way, perhaps.”

Amendment 5 is another one that’s garnered a lot of public interest. The Louisiana School Boards Association, the Police Jury Association and the Sheriff's Association all support the amendment.

Critics of the amendment say it is more generous than the ITEP system and would move the tax burden away from businesses and towards citizens.

“Although the manufacturer might begin paying earlier than under ITEP, the company could get a better tax break by paying less taxes than would be due after the eight- or 10-year ITEP period expires,” PAR says of the argument against. “If a business pays taxes in advance, it will want to be compensated for doing so. That means the local government will receive less tax revenue, which could lead to spending cuts or an increase in taxes.”

Amendment 6: Property tax breaks for elderly people and those with disabilities

Certain Louisiana residents are eligible for special property tax breaks — those aged 65 or older, those disabled in the military, surviving spouses of members in the military, and those “totally disabled” as PAR describes it — if they make less than $75,000 a year. The amendment, if passed, would expand the upper limit to $100,000.

“This just changes the upper limit of a property tax freeze for people who are 65 or older or a few other people, so it’s not going to affect a ton of people,” Pearson Cross said.

According to the PAR, the local revenue impacts and the number of affected households are unknown, but most residents 65 and up are already eligible for the break.

Amendment 7: Creating a trust fund for unclaimed property

When unclaimed property is turned over to the Treasurer's office, the office sends it through a program to either return it to the owner or, if it remains unclaimed, put the money into the state’s general fund. Amendment 7, if passed, would create a new fund specifically for this money, and the government would use this money to pay claims and invest any excess money, which could lead to a greater accumulation of wealth before sending it to the general fund.

If the amendment isn’t passed, the money would just go towards what it’s already going towards. It really just sets up an extra step between the Treasurer receiving the unclaimed property and turning it over to the local government.

Historically, whatever money was leftover would go straight to the trust fund, and the state would use it to balance the budget year-to-year.

“The good government way would say ‘Well you should probably put it in a trust fund and pay claims based on interest or do some other stuff with it,’” Pearson Cross said. He also said it “would have practically no effect.”

And that’s the last of the amendments. There will be a vote in every parish in Louisiana to determine if sports betting should be legal in said parish, however according to The Current, even if a parish votes yes, it would still need to wait on state legislation for sports betting to become legal.

Lafayette parish will also have a proposition to slightly reappropriate money that would be going to the cultural economy to instead be put towards rural fire protection and parish roads. The money amounts to a little over $500,000.

The parish also has a proposition to renew a property tax for the construction and maintenance of public schools. It would generate about $11.7 million according to The Current. It would come at a 5-mill rate.

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