SADOW: Just Say No To All 2019 Louisiana Constitutional Amendments

One interest group calls this year’s batch of Louisiana constitutional amendments “challenging.” Not really – vote against all.

The Public Affairs Research Council released its guide for the 2019 lineup, giving voters a resource to vet what it accurately calls “arcane” measures. Perhaps as an indicator of this, the one applying only to New Orleans the mayor of which Democrat LaToya Cantrell has deemed so in need of explication – from her perspective, of course – that she has embarked upon a statewide tour to encourage its passage.

No. Let’s go in reverse order:

Amendment #4 – would allow only New Orleans to give property tax exemptions for the purpose of creating affordable housing (an item which requires not just statewide passage, but passage in Orleans Parish as well). This would let the city dangle breaks in front of developers thereby lowering their expenses to rent, applying only to long-term rental complexes with a smaller number of units, or to single property owners thereby reducing their costs to own.

Unfortunately, this would skew the proportion of taxes paid even more to higher-income families and businesses, further attenuating the possibilities of economic growth. Companion legislation would attempt to prevent raising rates to compensate, making even more dysfunctional the jurisdiction with the highest rates in the state and would be subverted over time. Lowering overall rates enabled by changing spending priorities, not making more exemptions, best encourages more affordable housing along with other policy and administrative changes. NO

 Amendment #3 – would allow the state’s Board of Tax Appeals to rule on constitutional questions. Presently, this body of gubernatorial appointees with tax law experience that rules on tax matters excepting property cannot declare rulings at any level unconstitutional, which must occur through the judicial system. Since that aspect may comprise just one part of a larger tax case, adjudications can drag on for years, so giving it constitutional oversight could speed things up.

However, little extra dispatch would be likely, as losers of constitutional rulings by this panel likely would appeal the matter into the judicial system anyway. Further, the public has greater accountability over elected judges than appointees, who may be unduly influenced by the governor. And, a legislative select committee currently is looking into the whole matter of a specialty court for this and related matters, which may be a superior approach but would become mooted by passage of the amendment. NO

Amendment #2 – would add two exceptionality public schools and one exceptionality charter school to four other exceptionality schools at the state level that can receive money from the Education Excellence Fund (around $15 million a year overseen by the Department of Education).

While ensuring all schools serving students with exceptionalities (either with developmental disabilities or advanced instructional capabilities) can tap into this fund, this measure only clutters up the Constitution further and won’t include future schools authorized in these areas. There’s no reason, if the Legislature thinks these schools deserving of more money, that it can’t make annual line items instructing Education to spend on their behalf. NO

Amendment #1 – would exempt from property tax items destined for the Outer Continental Shelf, amplifying the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition on states and their jurisdictions taxing interstate commerce that remains legally untested concerning property taxation on inventory. Local governments at present through inventory taxes may collect revenues from these items.

This would write into the state Constitution yet another tax break, although one that the federal document already may force upon states (although there’s no guarantee that legerdemain won’t happen to stuff as many goods into this category as possible if a break existed). It’s better to get rid of the ability to tax consumable property like this and its counterproductive effects, or at the very least first challenge the ability to tax in federal court and have a ruling that states can tax in this manner (which applies to only a few jurisdictions in Louisiana) before debating the larger policy. NO

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