DSA New OrleansFall 2021

Voter Guide

Constitutional Amendments

Constitutional Amendment #1

On its face, constitutional amendment 1 seems reasonable. Help eliminate a parish-by-parish taxation system and centralize one system for sales tax throughout the state, right? Reduce bureaucracy. Unfortunately this is the hostile state legislature we’re talking about, the governing body that has over this past year attempted numerous tricks to force New Orleans to end its mask mandate. The mayor has come out strongly against this one and she’s fundamentally correct. This constitutional amendment will mean that the city will lose power over its source of revenue - and our city has reason to be skeptical of that after decades of state encroachment on local tax revenues, a tendency that conspicuously emerged progressively as Black residents got more say over local governance. Heaven forbid we get another anti-tax crusader like Bobby Jindal in office who decides the best way to reduce taxes is to stop collecting them.

Paradoxically, while this amendment would almost certainly be used to strip New Orleans of local revenue, it would likely make finding funding more difficult for localized incarceral police forces. In many parishes under Louisiana’s unusual decentralized system, sheriff departments directly collect taxes and have enormous local power. It is this regime that makes the Jefferson Parish Sheriff one of the most powerful officials in the state, and creates exceptionally well-funded police departments in New Orleans and elsewhere. It is unclear how much of this funding would be used for still be dedicated to policing if it is turned over to the state, but the result would likely be a stronger state police apparatus At the end of the day, this amendment would likely mean less revenue for New Orleans and increased influence of the state police over the city.

Constitutional Amendment #2

Amendment 2 is part of a package of Republican-friendly tax reforms passed by the state legislature. What we’re looking at is an elimination of the old system of deducting federal income taxes from state income taxes (a rarity in the US). In theory this should stabilize state revenues but in practice it is tied to a tax cut, including a reduction of the tax on business investment capital and a limit on future state tax (and thus revenue) growth, and a set of bills that will automatically cut taxes even further if they take in too much revenue. The sum of changes to the tax code under this amendment would disproportionately benefit corporate entities over regular income earners, while providing a mechanism to cut taxes in the future if revenue is higher than expected. It also lowers the maximum income tax rate in the constitution, and any change to increase that tax rate past the maximum will have to be done through another time-consuming constitutional amendment. We are fundamentally opposed to any such limitation on income tax rates, especially as the wealth inequality gap expands to gargantuan proportions in our city, state, and country, with absolutely no relief for working class residents most overburdened by our state’s notoriously high regressive sales tax rate. The solution to the state’s revenue problems is to generate more revenue, not less, and the rich, whose bank accounts have swelled as ours diminished in the COVID era, ought to foot the bill.

Constitutional Amendment #3

In some ways, this is an amendment about local control of tax millages, and whether or not Levee Districts can impose a property tax millage without future voter approval. In other ways, it’s entirely about Louisiana’s precarious relationship to an ongoing climate crisis, the state’s accelerating land loss (estimated to be 30 football fields a day), and the limited resources and solutions that Louisiana has on hand to save itself from rising tides. The core of this amendment is this: Prior to 2006, levee districts could impose a property tax of up to 5 mils ($5 per $1000 of assessed value) on properties in those districts without approval by voters. In 2006, a constitutional amendment was written that any levee district created after 2006 would require voter approval to create a millage for levees. This 2021 amendment would amend the state constitution such that levee districts would not need voter approval specifically where this measure passes.

One thing is for certain, levees and levee districts will be more common in the future; the question is which parts of the state will be protected, and which communities will be left to their own devices to fight increasingly devastating hurricanes, storm surges, and general flooding. As far as the immediate impact of this amendment, what is at stake at this moment is whether four areas — Chenier Plain, Iberia Parish, Squirrel Run, and St. Tammany — will approve the measure. Each of those levee districts were formed after 2006 and have not yet leveraged their five mils. However, in the future, there could very well be a new levee district in your area. The question to voters would more or less be, do you want your taxes to go up a little bit in case we have to fund a levee? Given how things went this year, it’s probably a better bet to vote yes on this.

With that said, the legislation backing this amendment more properly captures our current state legislature’s rather sad and apathetic stance with regard to the climate crisis. And further, the lack of analysis of the causes of the climate crisis, and who is most impacted. To that end, this tax may more accurately represent an increased burden on those who are already vulnerable to the impacts of global warming. We would prefer that the oil and gas industries that are to blame for, well, everything, would pay for their crimes instead of yet again passing the buck on to the people.

Constitutional Amendment #4

Over the past few years, dedicated funds have been a target of reform by the state legislature, with a committee set up for the express purpose of eliminating funds that are no longer used. These funds typically draw their revenue from user fees or other targeted taxes to preserve money for a narrow or local purpose. Well-known examples of dedicated funds would be hunting license fees, which go to wildlife preservation, and tolls for the Crescent City Connection Bridge that funded maintenance and policing of the bridge until 2013. Essentially this just gives the governor the ability to draw out more money from dedicated funds for purposes other than the fund’s dedication, given the budget committee’s approval. The concept is to use money from funds that are too full to cover for funds that are for one reason or another short in order to reduce deficits. Currently, those reductions are limited to 5% per department or agency; this amendment would increase that figure to 10%. Ultimately, this budget weapon could be used for any sort of arbitrary purpose, whether it’s political patronage or punishment. While we don’t exactly love the guy, we won’t always have a Democratic governor who is willing to push back against foaming-at-the-mouth anti-regulatory, anti-public service conservatives in government, and we shudder to think what a Jindal or Rispone type figure could do with the freedom to impose an extra 5% reduction to critical state services We already have an established rainy-day fund intended to cover for deficits, and as previously mentioned, the Governor already can adjust these funds by 5%. State programs could wake up and find themselves on the Governor’s bad side and suddenly short for their projects for the year. Let’s call this what it is: Austerity. As socialists, we are fundamentally anti-austerity. In reality, there’s more than enough money to go around, it’s just staying at the top. And as long as Louisiana has a balanced budget amendment, the legislature will keep throwing these types of austerity measures at voters, in order to achieve this arbitrary budget threshold. Vote no against austerity.