2019 Louisiana Democratic Socialist Voting Guide
In theory, a constitution sets out the structure of a government. It lays out the rules and procedures for how a government will operate, but it does not decide what the government will actually do. That’s what the Legislature is for.
But that’s theory, and this is Louisiana.
Louisiana in on its 11th Constitution now, and the most recent was approved in 1974. The current constitution has been amended 195 times in just 45 years. Many of the amendments govern the day-to-day operation of the government as you will see below. Between 2006 and 2018, Louisiana amended its constitution more than any other state, with 92 proposed and 69 approved.
Unlike other states with heavily amended constitutions, Louisiana does not have a process for voters to put amendments directly on the ballot. So although all of these amendments need to be approved by voters, they originate in the Legislature. We agree with most observers that this is a convoluted way to go about legislating mundane budget appropriations and tax exemptions. But there is also a growing movement among conservatives to call a constitutional convention and start over, which is kind of a worrisome prospect given the current political climate.
Constitutional Amendment #1
Tax Exemptions for Outer Continental Shelf
This amendment would extend property tax loopholes to heavy equipment headed for the Gulf of Mexico where offshore drilling is somehow still somehow happening. Meanwhile, states like Rhode Island are building the country’s first offshore wind turbines using parts that were made right here in Louisiana. A yes vote would provide more tax breaks for the oil and gas industry on top of the already ludicrous Industrial Tax Exemption Program that has been bankrupting the state for more than 80 years. So the Legislature is asking us to further starve our coastal parishes of badly needed revenue by subsidizing a dangerous and dying industry when we could be supporting homegrown renewable energy that could help stop climate change which is swallowing our coast. Vote NO.
Constitutional Amendment #2
Amend Education Excellence Fund
The Education Excellence Fund (EEF) is a public trust seeded by money received from tobacco company lawsuits in the 90s and directs funds to various educational initiatives. It is part of a larger fund that also provides money to Taylor Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS) called the Millennial Fund, which, according to the treasury, currently has a balance of over $1 billion.
A yes vote will earmark money from this fund for three entities. One is the Louisiana Educational Television Authority which holds licenses for public broadcasting in several cities and produces its own cultural documentaries for Louisiana Public Television. That seems beneficial, especially since, according to a financial report, budget funding for the authority has been reduced by 34% and its staff has been cut by a quarter as a result. It would add Thrive Academy, a state-funded charter school in Baton Rouge, to the list of schools already receiving funds from the EEF like the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts and the Louisiana School for the Deaf. This amendment would provide $75,000 to the school each year.
It would also provide grant funding for any laboratory school, a type of school that operates in conjunction with the university system to test new methods of education. Our research is unclear about why Thrive Academy in particular is being enshrined in the state constitution, but this amendment did pass unanimously in both bodies of the legislature, so it doesn’t seem to have partisan opponents. We’re in favor of schools and public television but not really in favor of using the constitution to do appropriations, especially for charter schools. This type of amendment is fuel for the rumblings that Louisiana needs a constitutional convention.
Ideally, the state would be funding public schools in a democratic way, not funding some via the constitution and some via the state budget. If you had $1 billion in your pocket to spread education across 70 public school districts and a university system that underpays its staff and faculty and constantly sacrifices curriculum in order to stay open, how would you spend it?
Constitutional Amendment #3
Remedy for Unconstitutional Tax Paid
A yes vote would give the Board of Tax Appeals new power to decide constitutional tax questions, essentially making it like its own supreme court. Typically this power is reserved for the judicial branch, not executive bodies. The stated rationale is that this would make appealing your taxes faster, but completely changing the makeup of our court system seems extreme just to increase “efficiency.”
The writer of this section recently went through the tax appeals process after being presented with a $1,400 income tax bill for a year in which they didn’t live, work, or set foot in Louisiana. While it was a cumbersome process to prove that something didn’t happen—especially since it’s extremely difficult to get appropriate out-of-state documents when more than five years have passed—and while the writer believes the state should have had even one shred of evidence before slapping someone with a financial obligation that could result in their property being seized, and while the process did take almost two years to favorably resolve, it’s unclear how the experience could have been improved by this executive body having unchecked constitutional power. It’s not difficult to imagine scenarios in which corporations and the wealthy could have their taxes declared unconstitutional without ever seeing the inside of the Supreme Court. Vote NO.
Constitutional Amendment #4
Allow New Orleans Property Tax Exemptions
A yes vote would allow the city of New Orleans to grant property tax exemptions for residential properties that provide affordable housing. Developments over 15 units and short-term rental properties, such as for Airbnb lodging, would be ineligible. The city needs more affordable housing and Mayor Latoya Cantrell is pushing hard for passage of this amendment. In May the Greater New Orleans Housing Alliance, a housing advocacy group formed in the wake of Katrina, praised Sen. Troy Carter for introducing the underlying bill.
Still, there is limited public understanding of how this exemption would work in practice, for whom it will freeze taxes, and under what circumstances. The rules will actually be written by the city’s Office of Community Development and then be subject to a public approval process involving the City Planning Commission and the City Council. A Yes vote on this amendment permits that process to begin. One concern for us is the potential for freezing property taxes for existing rental properties without mandating that rents in those buildings are frozen as well. The worst case scenario is that this could freeze property taxes for people at higher incomes while not relieving housing costs for renters. In short, YES on 4, but be prepared to fight like hell to make sure it actually benefits low income folks and renters in particular.