Big Easy’s Guide and Recommendations on Amendments


Courtesy of Library of Congress

THE GIST.

CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT 1      –    NO.

CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT 2     –     NO.

CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT 3     –     NO. 

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CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT 4     –     NO.   

CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT 5     –     NO.

CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT 6     –     NO DECISION.

CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT 7     –     NO.

SPORTS BETTING PROPOSITION         –     YES.       


ANALYSIS


LOUISIANA CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT 1.

TEXT OF THE BALLOT MEASURE:

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? (Adds Article I, Section 20.1)

AMENDED TEXT OF THE LOUISIANA CONSTITUTION, Section 20.1 of Article I of the Louisiana State Constitution, ADDED: 

Section 20.1. To protect human life, nothing in this constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.”

THE MEANING:

Amendment 1 to the Louisiana State Constitution seems like a pro-life amendment at first glance.  The progressive standpoint would of course be to stand against this and vote, No.  The regulation of women’s bodies is something we will always stand against.  However, this amendment is even more insidious upon a deeper look.  Even those who are staunchly pro-life should stand against this amendment and vote No on #1.  The wording of Amendment 1 as it stands leaves no room for abortion access even in the event that both the mother and the fetus would die from forcing the woman to carry to term.  Amendment 1 does not protect life, it further cheapens it in every respect.

A vote of “Yes” on Amendment 1 does not keep abortions from happening.  It only restricts safe abortions.  Back-alley abortions will still happen, and women will die.  Once again, Amendment 1 does not protect life whatsoever.  A vote of “No” protects both the rights of women, and life overall.

Finally, abortion restrictions only deeply impact the poor and the working class.  Those who have means will always be able to procure a safe abortion, whether or not that happens in the state of Louisiana is besides the point.  A vote of “yes” on Amendment 1 is a vote to punish those with less resources.

Big Easy Magazine strongly suggests that you vote “NO” on Amendment 1.


LOUISIANA CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT 2. 

TEXT OF THE BALLOT MEASURE:

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? (Amends Article VII, Section 4(B))

AMENDED TEXT OF THE LOUISIANA CONSTITUTION, SECTION 4(B) ARTICLE VII, ADDS

“(2) Notwithstanding the provisions of Subparagraph (1) of this Paragraph, the presence of oil or gas or the production thereof, may be included in the methodology to determine the fair market value of an oil or gas well for ad valorem taxes.”

THE MEANING

Much has been said about Louisiana Constitutional Amendment 2, and most of it reflects an air of uncertainty. Big Easy Magazine holds the position that when a proposed Constitutional Amendment is of uncertain consequence, the public should vote no. The reason for this is that Constitutional amendments are easy to pass, but they are difficult to repeal.

Despite this conservative position, it is important to explain what the proposed amendment would change.

Oil wells are taxed by the Parish Assessor as a severance tax. A severance tax is merely a tax imposed on the removal of a natural resource. Constitutional Amendment 2 would instead allow assessors to tax oil wells on an ad valorem basis. An ad valorem tax is one that is based on the valuation of the item.

Representative Matthew Willard, speaking at an Indivisible NOLA town hall, gave a great example of the current situation, which Big Easy Magazine will summarize here.

Currently, an oil well that produces 100 barrels of oil a day would be taxed at the same rate as an oil well that produces 1000 barrels of oil a day. Amendment 2 would allow an assessor to place a higher valuation on the oil well that produces 1000 barrels – thereby producing more revenue.

As a result, the Public Affairs Research Council (PAR) noted that local assessors support this amendment. But in their observation, the amendment is “Supported jointly by assessors and the oil and gas industry.” 

So why does the oil and gas industry support an amendment that places more taxes on their oil? 

Rep. Willard explains this as well. In the current tax scheme, oil wells that are less productive are taxed at a higher rate than they would be if this amendment were passed. So oil wells that produce a smaller amount would enjoy lower taxes, due to the ad valorem tax scheme.

The Democratic Socialists of America, New Orleans chapter, wrote in their voter guide that we should be wary of the oil and gas lobby’s support. Their endorsement of Constitutional Amendment 2 might mean that they end up paying less taxes than they currently do. 

In addition, the DSA poignantly notes that “this change in tax methodology doesn’t appear to get us any closer” to our need to wean off of fossil fuels for the sake of our coast and our community’s health. In fact, it may only further incentivize the use of oil well extraction on a large scale, because the State would make more money that way.

There is a lot of uncertainty, indeed, surrounding this amendment. As noted above, because we do not know the fiscal consequences of this proposal – and because of the shady dealings with the oil and gas industry – Big Easy Magazine suggests you vote NO on Constitutional Amendment 2. 


LOUISIANA CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT 3. 

TEXT OF THE BALLOT MEASURE:

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? (Amends Article VII, Section 10.3(C)(3) and (4); Adds Article VII, Section 10.3(A)(5) and (C)(5)

AMENDED TEXT OF THE LOUISIANA CONSTITUTION Section 10.3(A)(5) and Section 10.3(C)(3) Article VII ADDED:

“(5) An amount equivalent to the money received by the state from the federal government for the received by the state from the federal government for the reimbursement of the costs associated with a federally declared disaster, not to exceed the amount of costs appropriated out of the fund for same disaster pursuant to Subparagraph (C)(3) of this section. …

(3) If there is a federally declared disaster in the state, up to one-third of the fund, not to exceed the state costs associated with the disaster, may be appropriated after the consent of two-thirds of the elected members of each house of the legislature. Between sessions of the legislature, the appropriation may be made only with written consent of two-thirds of the elected members of each house of the legislature.”

THE MEANING

The Budget Stabilization Fund, also known as the Rainy Day Fund is exactly what it sounds like. It allows the Louisiana state government a limited amount of back-up funding in the event of common revenue shortfalls, i.e. natural disasters and poor or inaccurate budgeting. Currently, there are limits in place that regulate when the fund can be tapped, the amount that can be taken from the fund, and it must be approved by 2/3 of both houses of the Legislature. 

Here is what would change. Proposed Constitutional Amendment No. 3 would stipulate that the fund could be tapped whenever the federal government declares a disaster in the state of Louisiana. Inherent in use of the fund is always the question of how and when the fund would be refilled. In this instance, specifically, how and when and for what, will the federal government reimburse the costs of the state? As we’ve seen with the current administration, there is a reluctance to reimburse states who don’t fall in line politically with the current administration. 

It turns out this amendment was proposed with little or no deliberation. The pandemic has thrown the state, including the Legislature into crisis mode. But this fund was never meant to be specifically ear-marked for every disaster, large and small; it was never meant to encourage fiscal incompetence. It was always intended as back-up funding only. The legislature’s job is to address more specifically, funding for events that are predictable. The state is going to have hurricanes. Budget for them. Opening the door wider for the Rainy Day Fund’s use is akin to the U.S. Congress borrowing from Social Security, and then saying that we don’t have enough money to pay for Social Security “entitlements.” 

Any addition such as this amendment would further encourage misuse. If you raid the cookie jar for everything that comes along, you’re not budgeting correctly. That is why the original fund has the limits it does. According to some economists, Louisiana’s bond rating could be adversely affected. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. 

Big Easy Magazine suggests you vote NO on Constitutional Amendment 3.


LOUISIANA CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT 4

TEXT OF THE BALLOT MEASURE:

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?” 

TEXT OF THE LOUISIANA CONSTITUTION, Section 10(c)(1) of Article VII, AMENDED:

“(C) Expenditure Limit. (1) The legislature shall provide for the determination of an expenditure limit for each fiscal year to be established during the first quarter of the calendar year for the next fiscal year. However, the expenditure limit for the 1991-1992 Fiscal Year shall be the actual appropriations from the state general fund and dedicated funds for that year except funds allocated by Article VII, Section 4, Paragraphs (D) and (E). For subsequent fiscal years, the limit shall not exceed the expenditure limit for the current fiscal year plus an amount equal to that limit times a positive growth factor be as provided for by law. The growth factor is the average annual percentage rate of change of personal income for Louisiana as defined and reported by the United States Department of Commerce for the three calendar years prior to the fiscal year for which the limit is calculated legislature shall establish by law a procedure to determine the expenditure limit. The procedure shall not provide for growth in the expenditure limit of more than five percent in any year. Once established by law, the procedure to determine the expenditure limit shall not be changed except by a law enacted by two-thirds of the elected members of each house of the legislature.

THE MEANING

This amendment is a non-starter. During the spring Louisiana Legislative Session, a similar measure was proposed by Representative Rick Edmonds, and it was shot down in Session. This is Representative Beau Beaulieu’s attempt to claw back against that failure. 

According to PAR, the Louisiana Constitution prescribes that the state’s expenditure limit grows “based on changes in average annual personal income in Louisiana.” Naturally, the state’s expenditures also cannot exceed the amount of revenue collected in a fiscal year; unlike the federal government, which may run a deficit to tend to the needs of Americans, states may not have budget deficits, no matter how much it would help their residents. 

Why is this proposal a non-starter? It would reduce the state’s expenditure limit even further. Currently, the state does not have enough money to provide ample public services and necessities. The failed bill by Rep. Edmonds wanted to impose a 98% spending cap on the state’s expenditures – essentially cutting the budget by two percent. 

According to the DSA, this amendment is “Rep. Beaulieu’s plan to accomplish the same thing through a slightly different math.” 

And the math is complicated. Essentially, the amendment attempts to provide budget stabilization by capping its rate of growth by five percent each year. According to PAR, “This amendment seeks to treat the symptoms of budget growth without curing the root problems.” And ultimately, the growth limit will lead to spending cuts in areas of higher education and healthcare. 

To quote the Public Affairs Research Council again: “This [growth limit] may result in declining or slower growth in government service levels and fails to account for disproportionate growth of intensive government service populations such as the elderly and school-age children.”

Jan Moller of the Louisiana Budget Project wrote in opposition to Amendment 4. In his opposition, he notes that the amendment also requires a two-thirds majority of the Louisiana Legislature to override the five percent cap on spending growth. Thus, once the economy picks up, the budget will still be constrained, and a minority of legislators will be able to veto any increase in spending for vital social services. 

The ultimate consequences of this amendment are difficult to ascertain. As is Big Easy Magazine’s policy, we tend to advocate against Constitutional amendments in such cases. 

In addition, what we do know about Amendment 4 is not good. It is not worth tearing down our fiscal structure and attempting to build it once again. The consequences to our most vulnerable residents may be dire. As a result, 

Big Easy Magazine suggests you vote NO on Constitutional Amendment 4. 


LOUISIANA CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT 5. 

For a more detailed discussion of this amendment, please see Helen Lewis’s article: What Does amendment 5 Mean? How to Vote on This Corporate Welfare amendment

TEXT OF THE BALLOT MEASURE:

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?

AMENDED TEXT, SECTION 21(O) TO ARTICLE VII OF THE LOUISIANA CONSTITUTION ADDS

“(O) Property that is subject to a cooperative endeavor agreement, as provided by law and this Constitution, between the owner and one or more taxing authorities which agreement requires the property owner to make payments in lieu of taxes as provided by law. Property eligible for this exemption shall be limited to property of a new manufacturing establishment or an addition to an existing manufacturing establishment.

(1) The exemption authorized under this Paragraph shall be to the extent agreed to and provided for in the cooperative endeavor agreement. All property exempted shall be listed on the assessment rolls and submitted to the Louisiana Tax Commission.

(2) Enactment of any law to implement this Paragraph and any Amendment to that law shall require a two-thirds vote of the elected members of each house of the legislature.”

THE MEANING

Currently, our state Constitution has an annual assessment along with local taxes levied on residential and business property. If there are any exceptions, the approval must come from the Constitution. An example of an exception is ITEP or the Industrial Tax Exemption Program which allows the business to go without paying any taxes whatsoever for up to ten years, However, that was recently renegotiated for 80% for eight years. 

PILOTs or Payments in Lieu of Taxes, despite not being mentioned in the Constitution, are available for businesses if an agreement can be made between them and local governments. With that system, the government can actually take ownership of the property and lease it back to the company for next to nothing, and be entirely exempt from property taxes. 

The current law allows certified businesses to go without paying almost any property taxes for up to ten years. As Helen’s article points out, our biggest example is CAMERON LNG, a $13 billion company that paid $38,000, rather than the $220 million in property taxes they would otherwise owe. Instead, the business makes regular payments into local coffers in lieu of property taxes. This figure is generally less than what the taxes would have been. 

There are several reasons Big Easy Magazine is against this. One reason is that a new system was just put in place in 2018 to deal with this; it is a system that is basically untested so far, so the idea of changing things again, seems not only ludicrous but suspicious as well. The deal they currently have in place is also already sweetened in businesses’ favor with allowing the property used to be leased to the business through the state, making it completely tax free for up to eight to ten years.

Another thing this amendment puts into place is that it allows locals to have more power over the situation. If you think state corruption is bad, imagine every city as a New Orleans, with all the privileges and corruption. How might a local official be persuaded to incentivize a new project? Further, property taxes will be negotiated between business and local government, and whoever is the best negotiator wins.

 Big Easy Magazine suggests you vote NO on Constitutional Amendment 5.


LOUISIANA CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT 6. 

TEXT OF THE BALLOT MEASURE: 

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? (Amends Article VII, Section 18(G)(1)(a)(ii))?”

TEXT OF SECTION 18(G)(1)(a)(ii), ARTICLE VII OF THE LOUISIANA STATE CONSTITUTION, AMENDED

“(ii) Any person or persons shall be prohibited from receiving the special assessment as provided in this Section if such person or persons’ adjusted gross income, as reported in the federal tax return for the year prior to the application for the special assessment, exceeds fifty one hundred thousand dollars. For persons applying for the special assessment whose filing status is married filing separately, the adjusted gross income for purposes of this Section shall be determined by combining the adjusted gross income on both federal tax returns. Beginning for the tax year 2001 2026, and for each tax year thereafter, the fifty one hundred thousand dollar limit shall be adjusted annually by the Consumer Price Index as reported by the United States Government.”

THE MEANING:

We at Big Easy Magazine all agree on most of these amendments.  However, our editorial board was fairly split on whether to vote Yes or No on Amendment 6.  Therefore, we will present a case for a Yes vote as well as a case for a No vote.

REASONS TO VOTE YES ON AMENDMENT 6:

A vote of Yes would increase the amount of income a person may receive and still qualify for certain tax exemptions (specifically the homestead exemption).  This means that property taxes would not be able to be increased for folks even if they earned up to 100k a year.  At first glance this may seem like a lot of money.  However, this amendment does not include language that makes it clear whether or not this is a household income or a personal income.  In a single income household, if a family of six lives on an income of 100k a year, this looks very different than if a family of six has two incomes and lives on 180k a year (as an example).  A vote of Yes could also increase Louisiana, New Orleans in particular, as a smart choice for retirees to invest in, move to and spend their money in our local economy.

REASONS TO VOTE NO ON AMENDMENT 6.

A vote of No would keep our current system in place rather than increasing the amount of income one could make and still qualify for the homestead exemption.  If you feel that an increase in income would simply allow folks who make close to (or directly at) 100k a year pay less in property taxes, then a vote of No on amendment 6 would be the choice that makes sense.


LOUISIANA CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT 7. 

TEXT OF THE BALLOT MEASURE:

“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?”

SECTION 10(F)(4)(i), ARTICLE VII of the Louisiana State Constitution, and Section 28 of Part V, Article VII, of the Louisiana State Constitution, ADDED

THE MEANING:

According to the Democratic Socialists of America, New Orleans Chapter, this amendment is the product of a debate between Governor Edwards and Treasurer John Schroder about what to do with unclaimed property accounts. Currently, Treasurer Schroder is refusing to hand over money to the state’s general fund – to the tune of $32 million. 

The effect of this amendment, according to the Advocate, is that the $32 million will be released to the state’s general fund. This is good.

But there is a downside: The amendment will put future unclaimed property “locked up in a trust fund in the future.”

What does this mean for Louisiana? The Public Affairs Research Council states that unclaimed property accounts consist of “unclaimed bank accounts, insurance payments, energy bill excess that were meant to be reimbursed,” but the proper owner could not be found. If the money is not refunded to owners, $15 million goes toward bonds to pay for the Interstate-49 construction, and the rest goes to the Unclaimed Property Fund. After that, the money may be placed in the state general fund.

This change would place up to 50 percent of the Property Fund into stocks and equities, with the state earning the interest, and the rightful owners maintaining their right to claim their money at any time. Essentially, this is a constitutional protection for the owners of unclaimed property.

On the other hand, most of this unclaimed property is never returned to its rightful owner. The fund has, for nearly 50 years, had more money to invest in the state fund than funds to return. Instead, PAR states that the “money is put to good use by funding important programs such as K-12 education, healthcare, and state colleges.”

To sum it up, this is a sneaky method to siphon off more money from the state’s general fund. With the massive recession impending, the state needs all the money it can get.

Big Easy Magazine suggests you vote NO on Constitutional Amendment 7.


PARISH BALLOT PROPOSITION – SPORTS WAGERING.

TEXT OF THE BALLOT MEASURE: “Shall sports wagering activities and operations be permitted in the parish of Orleans?”

THE MEANING:

Currently, sports wagering – other than in fantasy sports – is a crime punishable by a fine of up to $500 and imprisonment for up to six months. In May of 2018, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Murphy, Governor of New Jersey v. National Collegiate Athletic Ass’n that the 1992 federal ban on states sports wagering was unconstitutional under the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. This opened the door for states and parishes to legalize sports betting – but a parish-wide proposition has not, until now, reached Louisiana.

This proposition, should it pass, would allow sports betting in New Orleans. The Louisiana Gaming Commission would oversee the betting, and it would be taxed to provide revenue for the state. According to PAR, the profits therefrom “could generate new casino jobs and up to about $50 million annually in tax revenue[.]”

There is a possibility that the Republican-led State Legislature, in their intransigent refusal to help the most vulnerable people in Louisiana, would just cut the budget by $50 million, neutralizing the positive effect on our budget. And Big Easy Magazine does not wish to downplay the severity of gambling addiction – which ruins lives and families. Unlike lotteries and scratch off tickets, this may not be quite the “poor tax” as gambling is usually classified. Indeed, sports betting may only attract a niche audience of football and basketball fans. 

In the opinion of Big Easy Magazine, sports betting already occurs behind the scenes. The state needs the revenue badly. As a result,

Big Easy Magazine recommends you vote YES on the Parish Ballot


Editor’s note: To view our guide of criminal court judges click here.

For an overview of the New Orleans DA race, click here.

Big Easy contributors to this piece include Nolan Storey, Charlie Schully, Asad El Malik, Scott Ploof, Michael Raso, Jenn Bentley, and Helen Lewis. 

In reading amended provisions of the Constitution, text that is struck through would be removed, while text that is underlined would be added.

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