The Hayride’s 2020 Constitutional Amendment Guide

Our readers have been asking for this, and we’ve held off on putting it out until closer to the election – but seeing as though it’s 20 days out from November 3, we might as well dive into the subject of the constitutional amendments on the ballot Nov. 3.

As we always do in these discussions of amendments, we preface this by saying we hate having all of these items on the ballot. Most of the issues involved in the amendments are more properly dealt with through legislation; they belong as statutory matters. Putting them in front of the voters is, generally speaking, a failure of the state’s elected political class to do their jobs.

But given the current circumstances, we have to back off that stance a little. A lot of these are items that might be statutory in nature, but the reason they’re on the ballot is John Bel Edwards would have vetoed them. He can’t veto a constitutional amendment – that goes from the Legislature straight to the people.

Which is politics driving policy, yes, but it’s at least understandable when you have a governor who doesn’t really represent the will of the voters.

So you’ve got eight amendments on your ballot to wade through. We’re going to back off our typical reflexive “no” position on them and analyze them as a matter of policy.

Amendment #1

“Do you support an amendment declaring that, to protect human life, a right to abortion and the funding of abortion shall not be found in the Louisiana Constitution?”

This doesn’t do anything right now; it’s more of a signal than it is a policy. But if a Supreme Court with an Amy Barrett rather than a Ruth Bader Ginsburg catches a case which serves as a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade and blows up the structure of a federally-manufactured right to an abortion and this amendment passes, there will be nothing to stop the state legislature from making Louisiana a truly pro-life state.

Think of this as an official poll: are you pro-life, or pro-choice? There really isn’t another way to frame this. As we’re pro-life here at The Hayride, we’ll be voting yes.

Amendment #2

“Do you support an amendment to permit the presence or production of oil or gas to be included in the methodology used to determine the fair market value of an oil or gas well for the purpose of property assessment?”

For some reason, the Louisiana constitution specifies accounting methods that can be used to value property, something that shouldn’t be in there – that’s a matter belonging in the state’s statutes. And of course, the constitutional specifications stupidly exclude market value of income-producing assets. What this means is assessors are out there valuing oil wells at what it would cost to replace them – which for old stripper wells and others which only produce a few barrels a day means outrageous property taxes being levied. It obviously would cost a whole lot more to lay in a new oil well today than it cost to put one in 50 years ago, and they’re wells which are mostly tapped out which you wouldn’t pay to replace.

This is a pretty obvious change which needs to be made, particularly if Louisiana is ever going to bring the oil and gas industry back to life. A “yes” vote is a no-brainer here.

Amendment #3

“Do you support an amendment to allow for the use of the Budget Stabilization Fund, also known as the Rainy Day Fund, for state costs associated with a disaster declared by the federal government?”

We’re going to assume our readers know what the rainy-day fund is and how it works. Essentially what this does is to allow a raid on the fund by the state government if there’s a hurricane or a flood or something like COVID-19. They’d need a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate to allow this.

When Jeff Sadow did his analysis of the amendments last week, this was one of only two he was against. He says it’s a perversion of the original intent of the rainy-day fund, and he’s correct. The fact is Louisiana’s politicians are absolutely shameless and stupid when it comes to using disaster declarations as an excuse to spend money, often in ways which are ridiculously crooked. The current governor is the worst one we’ve ever seen. It’s bad enough that he spends all his time trying to draw down federal money he can issue greaseball contracts out of; this would give him another pot of cash to work from. Leave the Budget Stabilization Fund alone.

Amendment #4

“Do you support an amendment to limit the growth of the expenditure limit for the state general fund and dedicated funds and to remove the calculation of its growth factor from the Constitution?”

Amendment #2 is a must-pass, but this is the most important of the bunch requiring your “yes” vote. If Louisiana is ever going to rein in its out-of-control budget, you need something like this as a hard cap on spending. It requires a rather complicated discussion to fully explain the change in the budget growth factor this amendment would bring on, but essentially what it would do is require a two-thirds vote in both houses for Louisiana to ever increase the state budget by more than five percent in a year and in most years the budget will only be able to grow by a very small amount.

They never cut the budget up there. Pass this and they’re going to have to learn how.

Amendment #5

“Do you support an amendment to authorize local governments to enter into cooperative endeavor ad valorem tax exemption agreements with new or expanding manufacturing establishments for payments in lieu of taxes?”

PILOT deals (payments in lieu of taxes) are economic development tools they’re using a lot in Texas, and they’re potentially very valuable. Say there’s a car company somewhere who for some strange reason wants to build a factory in, for example, Avoyelles Parish. And as part of their construction they’re interested in building a nice road from Highway 1 into their facility. As that would cost the parish or the state a nice chunk of change, with a PILOT agreement in place, the parish could tell the car company “Build that road and we’ll knock the cost off your property tax bill in installments over the next x-number of years.”

A poor parish which couldn’t afford to build the road in the first place would then be able to compete.

Could this be abused by local government slobs? You bet it could. But that’s what we have things like U.S. Attorneys and federal prisons for. Louisiana needs all the economic development tools it can get and this is about keeping up with that economic dynamo next door. Vote yes.

Amendment #6

“Do you support an amendment to increase the maximum amount of income a person may receive and still qualify for the special assessment level for residential property receiving the homestead exemption?”

This is about, essentially, old people who can apply to freeze their property assessments so their taxes don’t keep going up while they’re on a fixed income. As of right now they can apply for the freeze if they make less than $77,000 a year; this would jack that up to $100,000 and then index it for inflation.

All of that sounds OK, but the reason Sadow said no on this amendment and we agree with him is the effect it creates. Remember, no other state has a homestead exemption anywhere near the $75,000 Louisiana puts in, so we already have the weakest residential property tax regime in America. That might be a good thing except we still charge property tax around here – and business pays 80 percent of it. Pass this, and you’re only making that problem worse at a time when Louisiana businesses are dying left and right because of the COVID shutdowns and the state’s hostile business climate. Vote no.

Amendment #7

“Do you support an amendment to create the Louisiana Unclaimed Property Permanent Trust Fund to preserve the money that remains unclaimed by its owner or owners?”

This one emanates out of the fight between John Schroder and John Bel Edwards over the state’s unclaimed property fund earlier this year; the Legislature passed the bill sending this to the people because current law favored Edwards having the ability to steal all the money out of the fund to pay for the state’s bloated budget, something a majority of the leges though was atrocious.

It’s a pretty easy call to vote yes on this one. Particularly when you understand that the money in the unclaimed property fund is NOT the state’s property. It’s the property of the people of the state which the government is simply holding. Most people get that, but John Bel Edwards doesn’t.

Additionally, there’s a parish-by-parish item that’ll appear everywhere…

“Shall sports wagering activities and operations be permitted in the parish of ______?”

We’ll vote yes on the proposal in East Baton Rouge Parish, because there are three casinos here and they might as well be allowed to compete with the ones in Mississippi in allowing sports betting. We’re not fans of this idea, but given the hostility the state has to virtually every kind of business taking place here we’ll err on the side of permission.

But we’re not doing so out of some sense that this is going to promote economic development. It won’t. Sports betting doesn’t fill the treasury; it hasn’t anywhere else where it’s expanded recently. This isn’t about funding government, it’s about getting politicians out of the way and letting people do something they’re going to do anyway.

By the way, if you’re looking for a super-detailed analysis of these, PAR, as always, has done a nice job.



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