The Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana (PAR) recently released its guide for the four proposed Constitutional Amendments that will appear on ballots statewide in the Oct. 12 primary election.
PAR’s guide on the proposed amendments is an exceptional product, or teaching tool, that voters should study before casting ballots in the primary election. In the meantime, we offer our recommendations on the four proposed Constitutional Amendments.
Amendment 1 would prohibit property taxes on raw materials, goods, commodities and articles stored for maintenance if they are destined for the Outer Continental Shelf. Though the Outer Continental Shelf is part of the United States, it is not subject to the jurisdiction of the individual states. The U.S. Constitution’s Interstate Commerce Clause allows for goods to travel unimpeded from or through Louisiana to other locales. Though the Commerce Clause does not specify that materials headed offshore are included in that category, goods destined for the Outer Continental Shelf had been understood to be exempted from property tax assessments. Recently, a few tax assessors in Louisiana called the exemption into question, which led to the current controversy.
We recommend a vote FOR Amendment 1 to clarify what has traditionally been exempt from property taxes and to rein in a few tax assessors who obviously went hunting to round up more money for local government to spend.
Amendment 2 would add appropriations to one legislatively approved special school, Thrive Academy, and two laboratory schools operated by universities — LSU Laboratory School and Southern University Laboratory School. Each school would receive $75,000 from the Education Excellence Fund plus the average per pupil amount paid to other public schools. The Louisiana Educational Television Authority, which is not a school but a state agency providing statewide educational programming through Louisiana Public Broadcasting, would receive $75,000 annually as part of the proposed changes. The amendment also removes an outdated provision of the Constitution that is no longer in force.
The Education Excellence Fund is a component of the Millennium Trust created in 1999 with a specific purpose to support excellence in educational practice. The state Department of Education is responsible for providing the appropriations and oversight of the fund. Money in the fund can be distributed only to elementary and secondary schools and special schools that included educational programs for instructional enhancement including early childhood programs for at-risk children, remedial instruction and assistance for children who fail to achieve the required scores on tests for advancement to a succeeding grade, or other approved programs.
Last year, the Education Excellence Fund allocated $15.6 million for education. Most of the money, or $15.1 million, was appropriated to 153 local schools and school systems and 43 non-public schools.
This proposed constitutional amendment would simply add three schools to the long list of schools eligible for funding through the Education Excellence Fund.
We recommend a vote FOR Amendment 2.
Amendment 3 would give broad power to the Board of Tax Appeals and allow the body to rule on whether taxation and fee matters are constitutional under Louisiana or U.S. law. Currently, individuals and businesses unhappy with a tax decision by the state Department of Revenue or local taxing authority can appeal to the state Board of Tax Appeals.
The board hears cases on various tax and fee disputes but does not embrace property tax issues, which fall to the Louisiana Tax Commission to decide. Board of Tax Appeals decisions can be appealed to state courts of appeal.
Proponents of Amendment 3 claim Louisiana should follow the lead of other states and allow the Board of Tax Appeals, whose members are appointed by the governor, to decide whether certain taxes or fees are constitutional. This amendment is bad news from the get-go. Decisions handed up by the Board of Tax Appeals, when in dispute, should continue to be appealed to a state courts of appeal in lieu of granting enormous power to a host of political appointees.
We recommend a vote AGAINST Amendment 3.
Amendment 4 would give the City of New Orleans the ability to establish property tax exemptions for residential properties that provide affordable housing within the city’s corporate limits. This amendment is strictly a local matter impacting the City of New Orleans and has no bearing on other municipalities in Louisiana. However, the amendment would give local government in New Orleans another tool to handle a local issue such as developing more affordable housing for the city’s residents.
We recommend a vote FOR Amendment 4.