Search This Blog


Only one LA amendment merits voter approval

This upcoming Saturday, Louisianans have just three constitutional amendments to wade through at the voting booth, although these hit on the all-too-familiar themes of state and local taxation.

Amendment #1 would preclude levying taxes on property under construction and not yet in use. Currently, the Constitution and statute give next to no guidance on this matter, nor do any rulings by the Louisiana Tax Commission. This leaves subject to local interpretation what an assessor should do in the case of incomplete projects that can take a long time for building to conclude, with treatment ranging from no taxation at all on improvement until finished to taxing on the entire value of the end result even if not entirely operational and everything in-between.

The amendment would allow assessors to use discretion in determining the usefulness of the improvement and value it all from there. It seems to strike a good balance between having a known standard and allowing for tackling matters on a case-by-case basis. Further, the relative predictability it would bring will encourage economic development, as it will remove incertitude on this issue for decision-makers regarding locations and expansions. Yes.

Amendment #2 wishes to carve yet another exception into paying property taxes for a primary residence beyond the nation’s highest $75,000. This would add to the list of entirely exempt properties those lived in by surviving spouses of volunteer firefighters, emergency medical responders, technicians or paramedics who died as a result of performing their duties, as well as law enforcement officers who would have qualified but died before completing their first year of service, adding on to the amendment approved last year that exempts surviving spouses of National Guard members, state police, law enforcement or fire protection officers who died in the line of duty from paying any property tax on their primary home.

It seems fair to add similar occupations to those already in place, and it would reduce local tax bases only marginally. However, as the back-to-back submissions demonstrate, a few of these in the last decade continue to chip away at governments’ abilities to raise revenues, shifting more of the burden to others. Plus, the ill-conceived Obergefell v. Hodges decision that decoupled the regulation of marriage from the achievement of important state objectives continues to have a negative impact so that Louisiana derives no societal good from granting benefits to anybody in a married state, past or present. No.

Amendment #3 seeks to add another protected fund, of which the Constitution has over two dozen and statute more than 300, to the state’s fiscal system. This one would receive any funds collected from a hike in the retail gasoline, motor fuels, and special fuels tax, from which proceeds only could go towards building and maintaining transportation projects.

A dedicated tax increase didn’t pan out this past year. The necessary legislative supermajority failed to materialize over concerns that a bumpy state economy could not absorb raising such taxes and that policy-makers did not spend existing collections wisely. This amendment came as part of a campaign to reassure the public that elevated tax rates assuredly would accrue to actual construction in transportation, instead of on other permitted uses such as funding state police, to address a backlog in roads needs over $13 billion.

But, problematically, the amendment does not address the major point of concern over current spending practices and becomes nothing more than a fig leaf to cover unwarranted higher levels of gas taxes. Currently, the money going into the Transportation Trust Fund, into which the amendment would attach the new sub-fund, often subsidizes local and private interests and superfluous programs instead of state objectives, roughly $120 million worth annually. Nor does it amend out the ability of policy-makers to shift funds around to moot its objective.

Rather, passing the fund would create bait for the unneeded hike, when adjusting priorities to capture the misallocated money for roads obviates any need for a tax increase. This has only symbolic value, matched against considerable real-life consequences. No.

No comments: