Voters will have the final say on four proposed constitutional amendments when they head to the polls next month.
While most voters' will be focused on the gubernatorial candidates at the top of their ballot, they know little about the constitutional amendments down below.
On this week's Capitol Access, Robert Travis Scott, president of the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana gives a summary of the ballot measures.
Q: Let's take the amendments in the order they appear on the ballot. The first deals with taxes on items bound for the Gulf of Mexico.
Well, that's right. You're supposed to be able to move things through your state without them getting taxed. So, if it's originating from Louisiana or passing through Louisiana, as long as it's on it's way somewhere else, normally it wouldn't be taxed. So what happens when that something is going to the outer continental shelf, which is in federal waters?
For years, we've always assumed that [those items] should be unimpeded, and they're covered by the commerce clause. Now, you have some assessors in some coastal parishes that are saying, 'No, we need to tax some of that." Now the legislature's come along behind that and said, "No, we're not supposed to tax those items and we'll need a constitutional amendment to create that exemption and iron that in.'
Q: The second proposed amendment has to do with the Education Excellence Fund. Tell us about that.
There's a fund in the constitution that allocates money to schools-- public schools and some private schools-- and there are three schools that want to get in on the funding. This constitutional amendment would take a small piece of the money that fund distributes and make sure that these entities get some of it. So basically, we're asking the public to appropriate a few hundred thousand dollars to these particular schools.
Q: Now, the third amendment has to deal with the Board of Tax Appeals. Already, taxpayers who dispute their tax bills can take their claims to the board for review, but there are some limitations to the kinds of cases they can handle, right?
Yes. If you bring a tax problem to them and it brings in a constitutional issue, you've got to go to the courts. So businesses and local governments came together on this bill and said, 'Hey, why can't we allow the board of tax appeals to also rule on constitutional issues? It would maybe expedite the whole process we have here.'
Q: The last amendment on the ballot deals with property taxes in New Orleans. Give us a rundown.
Well, constitutional amendment number four only affects New Orleans. It basically gives a property tax break to developers or homeowners who are building affordable housing. Now, what does affordable housing mean? How big is the tax break? How would it be adminsitrated? All of that is left up to New Orleans to figure out. What this provision does is allow New Orleans to set up a program to do that.
Q: That's all of them. Just to shift gears a bit: PAR doesn't take a position on specific amendments, but the organization does support a larger reform of the the state constitution. Why is that?
Yes. These are very complex constitutional amendments and I think they speak to one of the difficulties we have with our constitution in that it's loaded with minutia. It's very complicated. It's not the foundational document that is should be. That's too bad. And that needs to be fixed.
A detailed, non-partisan Guide to the Constitutional Amendments published by PAR is available online.