Fiscal issues the focus of most constitutional amendments on ballot

When Louisiana voters go to the polls next month, among the items on the ballot they’ll be asked to decide are seven proposed constitutional amendments that, with one exception, all deal with fiscal matters.

Lawmakers passed the amendments earlier this year in the truncated regular session and the special session that followed it, which was rather remarkable considering the Legislature was supposed to be dealing only with emergency items related to COVID-19, according to Public Affairs Research Council President Robert Travis Scott, who discussed the amendments at a meeting today of the Baton Rouge Rotary Club.

“We had a session with nobody there,” Scott said. “They were only supposed to be dealing with really important stuff and somehow they came up with seven, complicated arcane constitutional amendments and managed to pass them.”

The annual amendment process has become a familiar pattern in a state that has one of the worst constitutions in the U.S., according to good government groups like PAR, who note the document is unnecessarily long and complex.

Since the state’s current constitution was passed in 1974, following a constitutional convention, it has been amended 197 times.

“With this ballot, we may well reach 200,” Scott says.

Almost all of the amendments approved by voters over the past four decades have been to Article 7, which deals with fiscal issues. PAR is advocating for a plan to rethink the constitution and make broad changes that would not necessarily require convening another constitutional convention, something that has proved legislatively unpopular in recent years.

“You can take just one article and the Legislature can rewrite that one article and if two thirds of the House and Senate approve it, then they can submit it to the people to approve with a single up or down vote,” Scott says.

As in the PAR guide to the amendments, Scott did not offer an opinion on the proposed changes, but rather discussed the pros and cons of each.

He did note a degree of concern, however, about the ramifications of Amendment 6, should it pass. The proposal would raise from $77,000 to $100,000 the income limitation level for a statewide property tax assessment freeze for homeowners. The program is popular with retirees and those on a fixed income, and proponents say raising the level would make the state more attractive to retirees.

But that incentive would come at the expense of cash-strapped local governments, which already give up much of the property tax revenues they rely on through programs like the Homestead Exemption.

“Opponents of this would say, look, parishes are already too dependent on sales tax and this takes away their property tax base and these freezes are really adding up,” he says. “The homestead exemption and all these other exemptions, especially on the residential properties have become phenomenal. Half the parishes in the state have more than half—and some, way more than half—of their residential properties off the books,  not assessed. Think about that.” 

To see Business Report Publisher Rolfe McCollister’s views on the amendments, read his recent column here.