Three state amendments on October's ballot: here's what they mean

If amendments to the U.S. Constitution are as rare as a solar eclipse, amendments to the Louisiana Constitution are as common as a full moon.

So in addition to the statewide treasurer's election on Oct. 14, voters will have their say on three more amendments on the ballot.

Louisiana voters have amended their constitution 186 times since it was ratified in 1974.

By contrast, the U.S. Constitution has only been amended 17 times since the first 10, which make up the Bill of Rights, were ratified in 1791.

"It's not exactly set in stone, is it?" said Robert Travis Scott, president of Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, in a previous interview with USA Today Network.

But that doesn't mean voters shouldn't pay attention.

The amendments address how property tax assessors should deal with construction work, whether surviving spouses of some first responders should be exempt from property tax and if a special transportation fund should be created in anticipation of future new fuel tax revenue. 

"Citizens once again must decide whether to make changes to the state's fundamental law," Scott said.

PAR doesn't take positions on amendments, but it does provide an easily understood crash course on what they would do at parlouisiana.org.

With PAR's help, following is a list of the amendments that will appear on the Nov. 8 ballot with an accompanying translation on each one. The work below was done by PAR.

Amendment No. 1: Establish and property tax exemption for construction work in progress.

A vote for would establish a property tax exemption for construction work in progress.

A vote against would continue to leave no exemption in the Constitution for tax assessments of construction work.

Supporters argue it is unreasonable for government to force businesses to pay taxes on buildings under construction before those buildings produce a revenue stream that could pay the taxes.

Opponents believe businesses get too many tax breaks and this would be another one. Large manufacturing projects already can use the Industrial Tax Exemption Program to avoid property taxes for as many as 10 years.

Amendment No. 2: Establish a property tax exemption for the surviving spouses of first responders who died while on duty.

A vote for would give surviving spouses of volunteer firefighters, emergency medical responders,technicians and paramedics who died while on duty a full property tax exemption on their homes.

Voters passed an amendment last year exempting surviving spouses of National Guard members, state police, law enforcement and fire protection officers who died in the line of duty.

Supporters argue this amendment deservedly adds other first responders to last year’s amendment.

Opponents wonder where the state will draw the line for property tax exemptions. While no single exemption is a significant problem, the trend of creating more of these exceptions adds up to a negative impact,

Amendment No. 3: Establish a “Construction Subfund” of the Transportation Trust Fund.

A vote for would establish a “Construction Subfund” within the state’s Transportation Trust Fund to contain any new fuel tax revenue, which could not be used for state employee benefits or wages.

A vote against would continue to allot all revenue from fuel taxes, including any new fuel taxes, into the Transportation Trust Fund.

Supporters argue this amendment will provide more confidence to taxpayers by guaranteeing that future new tax dollars will be used on more projects and not administrative overhead.

While this amendment does not raise money for infrastructure itself, it may raise confidence in the state construction process and paves the way for future efforts to put more dollars into transportation. If this amendment, or something like it does not pass, then solutions to our infrastructure needs would be unlikely in the foreseeable future.

The state has a $13 billion backlog of deferred infrastructure maintenance and another $10 billion of unfunded mega projects.

Opponents argue the amendment is a symbolic gesture that does nothing to improve the poor condition of the state’s transportation system. It creates a fund with no funds.

More specifically, the amendment does nothing to prevent the Legislature from again choosing to fund State Police with Trust Fund dollars in the future, although current law caps the amount. If new fuel tax revenue is approved in the future, this fund mechanism will not work because the Legislature and administration still can move funds around in the budget process to meet their priorities.

Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1

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