Election 2017: Guide to the Constitutional Amendments
(WAFB) - On the ballot this fall, Louisiana voters will get to decide the fate of three constitutional amendments dealing with tax exemptions and transportation funding.
Constitutional Amendments require a two-thirds vote of the legislature to be put on the ballot. They need just a simple majority to get added to the state constitution.
Election day is Saturday, October 14. Early voting begins this Saturday, September 30.
Amendment 1 deals with property taxes on structures while they are under construction. According to the nonpartisan Public Affairs Research (PAR) Council of Louisiana, across the state, it is currently a case of choose your own destiny.
Some parishes apply partial property taxes to buildings and facilities while they are being built. In particular, this is a practice in parishes with lots of heavy industry and plants, like Cameron and St. James. Other parishes only add properties to the tax rolls once the work is complete.
If approved by voters, Amendment 1 would put all parishes in sync, taxing only completed structures. Robert Travis Scott, president of PAR, says proponents of the amendment believe this could be good for business and economic investment. "It would bring us some predictability for business and uniformity that we don't seem to have," said Scott.
It could also allow the state to avoid potential lawsuits for inconsistencies.
Scott pointed out, however, that opponents feel it will be yet another tax exemption for business.
Amendment 2 expands a property tax break for the surviving spouses of first responders killed in the line of duty.
Last year, voters approved a property tax exemption for the spouses of law enforcement officers, National Guard members, and firefighters killed while at work. This amendment expands that, adding the spouses of paramedics and EMS workers.
Like with Amendment 2, Scott says it's a question of who deserves a tax break. "This one particular exception really doesn't make that much difference in terms of local finances, but we have so many exceptions they add up," said Scott.
Amendment 3 aims to add restrictions to how some of the state's transportation dollars are spent.
Earlier this year, as lawmakers debated whether to raise the gas tax, some questioned how money already in the state's road fund is being spent. Over the years, legislators have put some toward paying Louisiana State Police and DOTD workers, eroding public confidence. Since 1990, lawmakers have earmarked $750 million from the Transportation Trust Fund for state police alone, according to PAR.
This amendment would create more stringent rules. Supporters say the amendment aims to put a little more trust back into the transportation fund. If it were to pass, money from any new gasoline taxes could not be put toward certain employee wages or their benefits.
However, there is a catch. Because it carves out only a specific pot of money – that from new taxes – it does nothing to control how current transportation dollars are spent. "It still doesn't restrict money being siphoned off for state police," said Scott.
Added to that, this spring, lawmakers did not increase the state gas tax, meaning the amendment carves out a specific fund without any funds to put in it. It's also important to note that in 2016, state legislators chose to not put any trust fund dollars toward state police.
For more information about the amendments, check out the PAR Constitutional Amendments Voter Guide.
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