November 8, 2022 Constitutional Amendments

   

Short version:

  1. Maybe
  2. No
  3. No
  4. No
  5. Maybe
  6. No
  7. No
  8. No

Proposed Amendment No. 1: Increased Stock Investment Threshold for Trust Funds

Do you support an amendment to increase to 65% the cap on the amount of monies in certain state funds that may be invested in stocks? (Amends Article VII, Sections 10.1(B), 10.8(B), 10.11(D), and 14(B))

The proposal on the ballot originates from House Bill 154 introduced by Representatives Jerome Zeringue (3/10) and sponsored by Francis Thompson (4/10) during the 2021 Regular Session. At present the Louisiana Constitution caps the percentage of money contained in various trust funds from being invested in the stock market. Specifically, it prohibits the investment of more than thirty-five percent of the Permanent Trust Fund in the stock market; prohibits the investment of more than fifty percent of the Millennium Trust Fund in the stock market; prohibits the investment of more than thirty-five percent of the Lifetime License Endowment Trust Fund in the stock market; and prohibits the investment of more than thirty-five percent of the Medicaid Trust Fund for the Elderly in the stock market.

As of June 30 there is approximately $3.2 billion in seven separate trust funds which may be subject to the provisions of this amendment: 1) Louisiana Education Quality Trust Fund ($1.5 billion); 2) Millennium Trust Fund ($1.5 billion); 3) Artificial Reef Development Fund ($18.7 million); 4) Lifetime License Endowment Trust Fund ($25.1 million); 5) Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge Trust and Protection Fund ($76.4 million); 6) Russel Sage or Marsh Island Trust Fund ($19.2 million) and the Medicaid Trust Fund for the Elderly ($17.9 million).

While proponents of the move argue that by investing more money in the stock market could result in generating more revenue for the state, opponents would caution you about the unpredictable nature of stocks. Couple that with the lessons of the last few years where government edicts were used to determine which businesses could remain operational and which ones couldn’t.

Every good investment specialist encourages a diversified portfolio. Or as a wise farmer once said: ‘Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

Although we’re not a fan of this idea, Louisiana Treasurer John Schroder has expressed his support for this amendment.

Proposed Amendment No. 2: Property Tax Exemptions for Disabled Veterans and Surviving Spouses

Do you support an amendment to expand certain property tax exemptions for property on which the homestead exemption is claimed for certain veterans with disabilities? (Amends Article VII, Section 21(K))

The Louisiana Constitution already provides for special property tax exemptions for veterans with service-related disabilities and to their surviving spouses. It also allows that parish governing authorities may locally put before the voters a measure to double the exemption in that respective parish.

This ballot proposal which stems from House Bill 599 introduced by Representative Beau Beaullieu (5/10) and co-sponsored by several other representatives during the 2022 Regular Session seeks to almost entirely re-write that portion of the Constitution. The measure would replace the existing system with a sliding scale based on level of disability. The disability rating would still be determined by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs without local discretion. Making this determination on the parish level would be replaced by this blanket state policy.

Proponents say that it is the least we can due to honor Louisiana veterans, specifically for those households that have lost a substantial portion of income due to a service disability. That was likely the same argument that was made when the current provisions contained in the Constitution were introduced years ago. There are not many that would argue against supporting our veterans. Unfortunately, special privileges won’t stop with just veterans (See Amendment 8 below).

There is a consequence to these ever-expanding tax breaks. Primarily, it erodes revenue for local government subdivisions. While the loss in some parish governments may go unnoticed, others may find it difficult to adjust. This anti-federalism amendment would take control away from local government and give more power to the state. For those reasons, we’re not a fan of this amendment.

Proposed Amendment No. 3: Political Activity by Classified Civil Servants

Do you support an amendment to allow classified civil service employees to support the election to public office of members of their own families? (Amends Article X, Sections 9 and 20)

The Louisiana Constitution prohibits members of civil service commissions and classified workers of state and local civil service systems (government bureaucrats) from participating in political activities. The spirit of the Constitutional provision is to ensure that government workers perform their duties in a non-partisan fashion and to protect those employees from politically motivated retaliation. Could the political machine ever be turned into a weapon of harassment due to political viewpoint (i.e. Donald Trump investigation)? Well, maybe on a national level, but what about locally?

This is the “don’t ask, don’t tell policy” of Louisiana politics. Louisiana bureaucrats were to keep their mouths shut about their political opinions. That could all change if this ballot proposal were to pass. It stems from House Bill 315 introduced by Representative Jonathan Goudeau (7/10) and co-sponsored by several other representatives during the  2021 Regular Session. Yes, the change attempts to narrowly tailor it to only include “immediate family members.” At least for now, but we all know how these things play out. Even under the proposed amendment over a dozen categories of people are impacted. In Cajun country genealogy interest may reach new heights as politicians search their lineage for bureaucrats who fall within the definition.

Proponents of the move cite that they are standing up for the First Amendment right to freedom of speech. However, the bill isn’t a complete reversal of the existing government imposed restrictions. It is merely another carve-out for a certain segment of society: well-connected bureaucrats. Now would be a good time for proponents to read the First Amendment – “Congress shall make now law…” Yet, here we have law!

Opponents of the bill are of the opinion that we already have enough “public servants” (who don’t care about being partisan) actively campaigning for the next person to sign their paycheck. We’re not a fan of this amendment. What do you think?

Proposed Amendment No. 4: Discretionary Waiver of Water Usage Bills

Do you support an amendment to allow local governments to waive water charges that are the result of damage to the water system not caused by the customer? (Amends Article VII, Section 14(B))

Someone must have had a really big water bill in Iberville Parish! Or is this just another weapon that will be used for political bribery? The proposal on the ballot originates from House Bill 59 introduced by Representative Jeremy Lacombe (2/10) during the 2021 Regular Session. Our constitution bars ‘the funds, credit, property, or things of value of the state or of any political subdivision from being loaned, pledged, or donated to or for any person, association, or corporation, public or private.’ Except for the fourteen exceptions following that statement and every time someone claims that a project is a “public necessity”! Hello Bottle Arts Lofts! Hello Racetrac!

While the bill may be well intentioned, opponents say there simply is not enough safeguards built into the exception to ensure it will not be used with nefarious intentions. Proponents say that water system administrators need more flexibility to be able to resolve disputes with customers in these situations. Presumably the “political subdivision” would consist of a Board (multiple persons) who would be vested with the power to “waive” charges under certain circumstances. But what prevents that Board from delegating that authority to a single person to administer. The going rate for buying votes may soon be quantified in gallons of water! Pas bon! 

Government doesn’t need to have more power to pick winners and losers. We’re not a fan of this amendment.

Proposed Amendment No. 5: More Time to Determine Whether to Raise Property Tax Rates

Do you support an amendment to allow the levying of a lower millage rate by a local taxing authority while maintaining the authority’s ability to adjust to the current authorized millage rate? (Amend Article VII, Section 23(C))

Did you really just ask that question? After all, it seems like mileage rates are arbitrarily adjusted while deadlines and statutory caps are simply ignored.

The proposal on the ballot originates from Senate Bill 154 introduced by Senator Gary Smith (3/10) during the 2021 Regular Session. If passed taxing authorities would be allowed to roll their millage rate forward up to the maximum rate until the millage rate expires, instead of until the next reassessment cycle of property. Proponents of the amendment say that this would allow taxing authorities more time to determine whether a tax increase is needed instead of automatically mashing the pedal to produce maximum tax revenue out of fear of losing it. It’s a valid point. Taxing authorities may relax because this removes the “fear” of losing potential future revenue – if needed.

Opponents of the bill believe that taxing authorities already have ample time to make informed tax decisions and ask the question – When has the government ever decided to lower tax rates from their maxed-out positions? For this reason, opponents believe that they shouldn’t be allowed to roll mileage rates forward for years to come. This is the type of legislation we have come to expect from Democrats from ‘that part of the state.’ Making it easier to raise taxes with little recourse to the taxpayer.

There’s also a question on whether or not a parish or municipality that is currently levying lower than the limit on their constitutional millages would be allowed to max them out if this passes. A good example of this is in Lafayette Parish. Currently, the General Alimony tax has a “maximum millage” of 3.25 mills. However, the constitutional limit is 4.0 mills. In years past, fiscally conservative councils did not roll the millage forward when it was automatically adjusted lower in a reassessment year. If that happens, under current law, the millage is then maxed out at the new, lower rate.

We’re split on this one. The promise is high, but questions remain. All things being equal, if you’re unsure, just say “no.”

Proposed Amendment No. 6: Capping Property Reassessment Tax Rates to 10% for Certain Orleans Parish Residents

Do you support an amendment to limit the amount of an increase in the assessed value of residential property subject to the homestead exemption in Orleans Parish following reappraisal at ten percent of the property’s assessed value in the previous year? (January 1, 2023) (Amends Article VII, Section 18(F)(2)(a)(introductory paragraph) and Adds Article VII, Section 18(F)(3))

Do you remember those Texas tourism campaigns with the slogan – “Texas, it’s like a whole other country?” That is how most of Louisiana feels about this part of the state. The endless exceptions carved into the laws of the state for the Parish of Orleans is nauseating. Now, a Constitutional amendment is being sought to give Orleans Parish residents tax benefits not available to other parts of the state.

This proposal originates from House Bill 143 introduced by Representatives Matthew Willard (1/10) and co-sponsored by Stephanie Hilferty (4/10) and Mandie Landry (1/10) during the 2021 Regular Session. The reason – it is unaffordable for many to own a home in New Orleans.

Proponents of the bill say that by placing an annual 10% cap on reassessed home values the owners would have more time to adjust to paying the higher tax bills which will inevitably come. Opponents of the bill have taken the position that Orleans Parish is already struggling to stay afloat with the enormous government they already have. Many see the policies of Orleans Parish as creating the problems which exist today and don’t feel that creating another special protection for certain people is the answer.

We don’t like any constitutional amendment carve-outs. If local communities prefer to have their own laws, then allow them to do so by repealing the state-wide mandate. What do you think?

Proposed Amendment No. 7: Limiting or Increasing Slavery and Involuntary Servitude?

Do you support an amendment to prohibit the use of involuntary servitude except as it applies to the otherwise lawful administration of criminal justice? (Amends Article I, Section 3)

Some legislatures are “woke” and others may be missing way too much sleep. That seems to be what we have in this proposed Constitutional amendment. This item also comes from that ‘part of the state‘ originating as House Bill 298 which was introduced by Representatives Edmond Jordan (1/10) and co-sponsored by various members including many of the Black Caucus during the 2022 Regular Session.

In their attempts to white wash (no pun intended) the state of Louisiana of the history of slavery and involuntary servitude, proponents now seek to make a change to a provision which has remained unchanged for quite some time. ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!‘ Apparently, in their minds, slavery and involuntary servitude is still a problem in our state and we can’t properly heal until a change is made.

In their infinite wisdom they seek to strike “except in the latter case as punishment for crime” from “Slavery and involuntary servitude are prohibited.” However, they seek to add a subparagraph which reads “does not apply to the otherwise lawful administration of criminal justice.

Opponents say this is just stupid! History is history. You can’t change it. It is a thing of the past. However, your woke efforts to stop slavery and involuntary servitude in the state of Louisiana may really be expanding it!

In the words of Fred Sanford, “Look here dummy!” The phrase “lawful administration of criminal justice” is very broad and subject to many different interpretations. In essence, it could give way for the expansion of slavery and involuntary servitude in Louisiana as it is no longer limited to “punishment for a crime.” One possibility: the “lawful administration of criminal justice” could include putting people to work whose only crime is not being able to afford the cost of bail.

Jerry Reed famously sang: “When you’re hot… you’re hot! When you’re not… you’re not!” Let the full song lyrics speak for themselves.

This one is nuts. Just say “no.”

Proposed Amendment No. 8: Changes to Property Tax Exemptions for Certain People with Disabilities

Do you support an amendment to remove the requirement that homeowners who are permanently totally disabled must annually re-certify their income to keep their special assessment level on their residences for property tax purposes? (Amends Article VII, Section 18(G)(1)(a)(iv))

Do you remember when we were discussing special property tax exemptions for veterans with service-related disabilities and their surviving spouses? Well, you see it didn’t stop there. Thanks to a proposal originating from House Bill 395 introduced by Representative Matthew Willard (1/10) during the 2022 Regular Session we have another exception being proposed. Willard seeks to remove the provision of the law which requires that totally disabled persons re-certify their income annually because it is overly burdensome.

Opponents of the bill have many valid points. If there is no annual recertification of income what would prevent someone from abusing the system? There would no longer be any check to ensure there has been no major change in income, nor would there even be a check to ensure the person is still alive. After all, someone could remain in the residence reaping the benefits of the special tax treatment long after the person is deceased. If the law required that income had to be annually re-certified before one could cast a ballot in an election, the proposal probably wouldn’t be before us.

Government doesn’t need to have more power to pick winners and losers. We’re not a fan of this amendment.

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