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Proposed Constitutional Amendments 2017: Property Taxes

There’s a trio of proposed constitutional amendments on the October 14th ballot, and PAR’s Guide to the Amendments is out now.

“We don’t tell you how to vote. We give you all the facts and let you make up your own mind,” says Public Affairs Research Council executive director Robert Travis Scott.

This year’s Guide makes note of the fact that Louisiana’s 1974 Constitution has – thus far – been amended 186 times, with the most frequent target for changes being Article VII, which focuses on financial, budget and tax issues. Scott says the current proposals follow that pattern. Amendment One would give active construction projects a property tax exemption.

“If it hasn’t been put into use yet – whether that’s a factory, or whether that’s a commercial building, a retail building, or your house – it will not be assessed for property tax,” Scott explains, adding there’s an argument that it’s needed for clarity and uniformity.

“For the most part, no one taxes construction work in process in Louisiana, but there’s no exemption in the constitution right now. But the Constitution says if it’s not exempt, you can tax it.”

He acknowledges some voters won’t like it, saying, “Some of the people who would be opposed might have concerns that it looks like an industry tax break.”

Amendment Two would expand on a constitutional amendment voters approved last fall, exempting surviving spouses of first responders killed in the line of duty from paying any property tax.

“Let’s add some more people onto that list, and that would be volunteer firefighters, emergency medical personnel, paramedics,” Scott explains, noting that the current exemption is for law enforcemt officers, National Guard members, and full-time firefighters.

He expects many voters to say yes.

“They see these people as public service members who gave the ultimate sacrifice, and this is just a way of society helping pay back for that great loss.”

While the total number and amount of such exemptions is small, approval would further deplete Louisiana’s already minimal property tax base.

“There are so many property tax breaks, you know, it does add up to a lot of money when you take all the exemptions combined.”

And while the state is constitutionally permitted to impose property taxes, it does not do so. Therefore the loss of revenue will affect local governmental bodies, rather than the state’s general fund.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at Amendment Three.