NEW ORLEANS — Louisiana voters will have much to consider this November election. They'll voice their preference for president of the United States, one of Louisiana's seats in the Senate, and all six of Louisiana's House of Representatives' seats — but there's more to consider.
Statewide, voters will also have to vote on seven amendments to the Louisiana Constitution and a proposition, in addition to more local races and propositions.
Often times, the legal wording of the amendments can be confusing, even overwhelming for some, so an independent non-profit research organization — the Public Affairs Research Council — published a guide for Louisiana voters.
Here's each amendment and what they mean:
Amendment 1: Abortion in Louisiana
“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?”
A yes vote: Voting yes here says there's nothing in the Louisiana Constitution that protects a women's right to abort a pregnancy.
A no vote: Voting no would leave the Louisiana Constitution with no specific language on abortion rights
"The purpose of this amendment is to place the abortion issue in the hands of the people through their elected officials and their statewide vote on this amendment, rather than with their state court judges. Supreme courts in 13 other states have interpreted their constitutions to discover a state right to abortion and have used that to strike down laws for mandatory ultrasounds, 72-hour waiting-periods and other limitations. This amendment will prevent that from happening in Louisiana. Judicial consideration of such important issues should be decided on the clear intent of law passed by the Legislature rather than on legal ambiguities."
"If Roe v. Wade is not overturned, this amendment at best would be pointless and at worst could result in the courts allowing further restrictions on access and funding. Women who want to end a pregnancy cannot wait for long court battles to determine their rights. Louisiana law already withholds state and local funding for abortion and bans Medicaid funding up to the extent of federal law. Funding prohibitions restrict access to women least able to afford abortions. The amendment has no exceptions for cases involving rape, incest or the mother’s risk of death. Louisiana already has a law to ban abortion if Roe vs. Wade is overturned."
Amendment 2: Taxing oil & gas wells
“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?”
A yes vote: Voting yes here would allow for oil and gas wells to be taxed based on production, a more objective way to calculate the value of oil and gas wells.
A no vote: Voting no keeps the current methods used to tax oil and gas wells.
"Assessors and the oil and gas industry came together to create this amendment after decades of disagreement. This amendment is narrow and does not affect severance taxes. The amendment
only allows the income approach to be considered when assessing an oil or gas well, along with the market and cost approaches. It will mean that newer, richer wells will tend to be valued higher than older, poorer wells, which is not necessarily the case now. This change will give the local assessors and the Tax Commission the tools they need to assess wells logically and fairly. It could reduce litigation. It may lessen the unfair tax burden on some low producers. A mere statute will not suffice and there is no foreseeable resolution outside of a constitutional amendment. No one spoke against the amendment during committee hearings."
"Although assessors and the oil industry have said this change would not raise taxes, the Legislative Fiscal Office stated that any effect on local tax bases is speculative. Some parishes could receive more in property taxes while others could receive less as a result of this amendment. While the amendment allows a new assessment method, a better solution would be a broader and more fundamental change to create a Constitution that allows the Legislature more flexibility with state fiscal policy."
Amendment 3: Using Rainy Day Fund for federally declared disasters
“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?”
A yes vote: Voting yes here would allow Louisiana's Budget Stabilization Fund, often called the Rainy Day Fund, to be used when there is a federally declared disaster.
A no vote: Voting no here keeps the Rainy Day Fund restricted to revenue shortfalls
"Louisiana is frequently beset with disasters such as hurricanes and floods. The cost of the response is often expensive. The federal government will reimburse the state a large portion of disaster-related expenses, but the state might not have adequate resources readily available to pay upfront or to pay its share. To prevent a cash flow crisis, the state could tap the Rainy Day Fund quickly and get reimbursed later, if this amendment passes. Under the companion statute, the state would use the federal reimbursement to refill the money taken out of the fund. The state needs this tool in our belt for weather disasters and public health crises. The amendment retains the other requirements and protections that come with the Rainy Day Fund."
"It is a close call whether natural disasters or fiscal crises are more common in Louisiana. Under this amendment, the Rainy Day Fund could be tapped even if the state isn’t facing a sudden shortfall in revenue. This new method of tapping the fund would be used way too frequently and undermine the original purpose and function of the Rainy Day Fund, which is to temper the state budget in times of revenue surges and boost the budget when revenue unexpectedly falls or economic cycles turn downward. The fund is already designed to handle state financial problems appropriately even in the case of disasters. If a disaster results in a forecast of lower state revenue, the fund can be tapped under current law, as it was in the early aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. If a disaster does not lower state revenue, then the Rainy Day Fund should be left alone and other means should be found to cover any emergency costs, including budget changes or tapping dedicated disaster funds. The state usually has years to pay back federal disaster aid. The companion statute’s provision for refilling the fund has no teeth and could be overridden easily in the state budget process. The original purpose of the Rainy Day Fund would be undermined and the state’s bond rating could suffer as a result. This amendment and its complicated companion statute were passed with virtually no committee debate supporting or opposing the legislation. The idea should be sent back to the Legislature for a more thorough hearing and process."
Amendment 4: More limits on spending
“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?”
A yes vote: Voting yes here create a news spending limit for Louisiana's budget, probably slowing growth.
A no vote: Voting no leaves current spending limits as they are.
"Louisiana government grows at either an unpredictable rate or too fast. Once a budget is increased, it is politically difficult to cut it. State government spends every tax dollar it gets and when times get tough politicians either resort to budget gimmicks or raising taxes. Cutting the budget is rarely considered seriously. Tightening the expenditure limit would attack this problem on the front end by slowing how much can be added to the budget. This amendment does not prevent the budget from growing, but likely reduces the maximum growth and brings predictability when compared to the current system. It is also more flexible because legislators will be able to adjust the growth formula with a two-thirds vote rather than having to amend the Constitution, which already is too filled with details. With a supermajority vote, the Legislature would be able to adjust the expenditure limit in cases of emergency, such as after a major hurricane. Since this would not affect the budget until fiscal year 2024, there is plenty of time to recover from our current economic crisis."
"This amendment does not ensure more efficient government; that will only come with changes to fiscal mandates and constraints. No protected funds or mandated spending increases would be eliminated. Therefore, this new system will make the Legislature’s options less flexible. This amendment seeks to treat the symptoms of budget growth without curing the root problems. State government is ultimately constrained by the amount of revenue it receives. If citizens want to shrink government, the proper remedy is to elect people who will do so. Limiting the growth will disproportionately affect those areas that are not protected by fiscal provisions in the Constitution, primarily higher education and healthcare. This 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. It is not clear that the new formula uses the appropriate statistics or that averaging the four metrics makes sense. The state already has an expenditure limit that is working. This new limit would be too harsh and could hamper appropriate levels of government spending. The idea should be sent back to the Legislature for a more thorough vetting."
Amendment 5: Payments instead of property taxes for industrial expansion
“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?”
A yes vote: Voting yes here gives local governments and manufacturers more ways to handle taxing industrial expansions.
A no vote: Voting no leaves the current system as is, with only one set of property taxes, payments or exemptions for manufacturers.
"The Louisiana School Board Association, the Police Jury Association, the Louisiana Sheriff’s Association and multiple business organizations support this amendment. It gives local governments an additional, optional tool for incentivizing business investment and empowers local governments to negotiate a more “front-loaded” funding schedule for local needs without having to wait out the eight- or 10-year ITEP period. The payments can be used by local governments for a variety of purposes, including operations or to service bonds for public infrastructure projects. These arrangements would be completely voluntary for all sides. Unlike the rigid ITEP program controlled by the governor, this PILOT program is locally run and has the flexibility to be tweaked and improved by the Legislature over time. PILOTs are used successfully in other states and promote economic development while giving locals more control and providing more certainty to both sides."
"Assessors generally oppose this amendment. These PILOTS have the potential to be more generous than the ITEP tax break. Although the manufacturer might begin paying earlier than under ITEP, the company could get a better tax break by paying less taxes than would be due after the eight- or 10-year ITEP period expires. If a business pays taxes in advance, it will want to be compensated for doing so. That means the local government will receive less tax revenue, which could lead to spending cuts or an increase in taxes. Locking in an agreement for 25 years is too long. Politicians will make deals to enjoy revenue streams in the short term that hamper tax revenues in the long term. If payments are delinquent, the local government will not be able to wield the usual property tax enforcement system. The program creates more potential for corruption on the part of business interests and local officials. A law was passed in 2018 that lets businesses enter agreements to make advance property tax payments. We should give that program time to work before passing this amendment."
Amendment 6: Property tax freezes
“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?”
A yes vote: Voting yes here allows homeowners with higher incomes to qualify for the property tax assessment freeze.
A no vote: Voting no keeps the current income limit for property tax freezes.
"More seniors are skipping retirement at 65 and are still in dual-income households. Full social security benefits do not kick in until well after age 65. Many older working residents have incomes above the current freeze threshold and deserve the break alongside their retired peers. We have a growing retiree population and a shrinking population of workers, so keeping more people in the workforce is a good idea for Louisiana. This amendment would make Louisiana a more attractive place for retirees."
"If people are working longer and making more income later in life, then this amendment moves us in the wrong direction. As the population ages, we will have more retirees and fewer people paying full property taxes. Special assessments or “freezes” were created to help those on a fixed income, not so much for those gainfully employed. According to the U.S. Census the median household income for those aged 65-74 is $52,465, so the current freeze already works for the vast majority of seniors. It is hard to see the need for special treatment for those making over $80,000. Already, vast amounts of household property values are untaxed in Louisiana due to the homestead exemption, the assessment freezes and other tax breaks. Local governments are being denied this vital and stable tax base."
Amendment 7: New fund for unclaimed property protection
“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?”
A yes vote: Voting yes protects unclaimed property money in a new trust fund.
A no vote: Voting no keeps the current program that benefits the state general fund.
"This amendment protects money that belongs to individuals. Unclaimed property comes to the state with somebody’s name on it and the state’s job is to try to find those people. This money does not belong to the state; it’s for the citizens with rightful claims. This new fund is needed because the recent increase in returns to claimants has created a cash flow issue in the Treasurer’s office. Twice the escrow fund has temporarily run dry resulting in a slowdown of payments. This improvement in finding claimants could continue due to advances in technology and efforts by the Treasurer’s office. This amendment would arrest the growing liability associated with habitually moving excess unclaimed property to the general fund. By allowing the fund to be invested, it creates a future revenue stream for the state that would not be dependent on spending other people’s property."
"The Unclaimed Property Program has existed for almost 50 years and has never had more claims than collections in a year. Even with increased returns in 2019 there was still an excess of about $12 million after dedications. The cash flow issue of the program has existed from its inception because state law requires remittances to be paid to the Treasury at particular times of the year, while refunds can come in at any time. State law could be adjusted to reduce this problem. This money is put to good use by funding important programs such as K-12 education, healthcare and state colleges. While the investment earnings of the proposed fund would eventually put money into the state general fund, it could take years before that new revenue source would approach anything close to $12 million in a year. The state needs every dollar it can get if it is going to fund government without raising taxes."
Proposition: Sports betting by parish
Shall sports wagering activities and operations be permitted in the parish of ______?
A yes vote: Parishes whose voters choose yes will be permitted to eventually allow sports betting within the parish.
A no vote: Parishes whose voters choose no will not be permitted to allow sports betting.
"People already bet illegally on football, basketball and other games. This vote would just legalize and formalize the activity and allow the state and local governments to regulate and tax it. Louisiana could win back some of this business and tax base from Mississippi and other states that are capturing the market, as well as unsanctioned online betting platforms that are hosted overseas. Retail and digital gambling companies could earn net revenue of up to $330 million per year in Louisiana, according to a gambling consultant’s study for the state economic development department. Those business profits could generate new casino jobs and up to about $50 million annually in tax revenue if standard rates are used. The wagering could be especially helpful to Louisiana’s ailing tourism industry. In principle, the wagering should be allowed because government should not tell citizens what they can and cannot do with their money except for truly serious abuses such as sponsorship of criminal activity."
"This is a major expansion of gambling in Louisiana. It is an overt effort by casinos to draw in younger people, a cohort that does not have a high propensity to gamble at traditional casino games. Permitting digital sports betting would expand it further to homes and mobile devices across the state. That means an expansion of all the ills that come with “gaming,” which is just a legal fiction developed in Louisiana, a state that leads the nation in allowing the most types of gambling. According to a recent analysis by Wallethub, Louisiana is the fifth most gambling addictive state. Government should not encourage citizens to gamble and then force the taxpayers to pay for the financial and societal problems it causes. The initiative could have been limited to casino activity but instead is aimed at encouraging online gambling also. Claims of increased revenue and beneficial business associated with gambling are often overstated."