One area I don't mind sharing some thoughts on is regarding the Constitutional Amendments. Louisiana is unique in that we seem to have more amendments to our constitution on a regular basis than any other state. Some of the amendments make sense, as they deal with areas that had not been addressed before or clarify existing law.. Other amendments, though, could more properly be taken care of through statues, rather than amending the constitution.
One area of particular concern is the continued use of constitutional amendments to protect certain funds from being used for other purposes. As we've added more and more of these types of amendments, we've restricted our lawmakers' abilities to make adjustments and balance the budget. So as a general rule I have become opposed to this type of amendment. Our legislators should have both the restraint to use money for its original purpose, as well as the freedom to make adjustments in times of financial crisis. So my recommendations below in those matters will be "NO," even though the cause may be well and just. We've got to stop using the constitution to create protected classes and special exemptions.
(In the interest of full disclosure, I have supported such constitutional amendments in the past, but I have seen that that just brings more and more people to the table asking for their constitutional protection. Maybe it 's time for a new Constitutional Convention, and a fresh start?)
And now on to my thoughts about the 2014 proposed Constitutional Amendments:
1. Medical Trust Fund and Healthcare Provider Base Rate - NO
This is one of those funds that seeks constitutional protection. While its cause is good (protecting the Medical Assistance Trust Fund), it also eliminate certain groups from the same protections it seeks to provide to nursing homes and certain other healthcare providers.
2. Medical Assessment, Trust Fund and Fee Formula - NO
Same reason as above. Creating constitutional protections for a certain class of health care providers – hospitals – will create problems for other programs without this special status. This should be done through statute rather than through amending the constitution.
3. Sales of Property with Delinquent Taxes - YES
This would allow local governments the option to use a private firm to assist in the collection of delinquent property taxes and the process of selling property whose owners are tax delinquent. This is very much needed for the many municipalities throughout our state that need assistance in navigating the complex issue of selling properties that have defaulted on their taxes. (PLEASE VOTE YES as this would help PINEVILLE!)
4. Fund Transfers for an Infrastructure Bank - YES
This would allow the State Treasurer to invest public funds into a Louisiana Transportation Infrastructure Bank, in the event that such a bank is created. Louisiana's aging infrastructure is at a critical crossroads and if we don't do something soon to repair and upgrade our infrastructure, we will not be able to catch up. This is one piece of a larger puzzle, but it's a good start.
5. Elimination of the Mandatory Retirement Age of Judges - YES
This would eliminate the mandatory retirement age of 70 for judges. This is the only elected position that has a mandatory retirement age. The ballot box is a better place to deal with judges that may be incompetent, rather than a blanket policy that throws out many of our most experienced judges (who often retire and then are hired back as ad hoc judges by the LA Supreme Court!).
6. Higher Millage Cap for Police and Fire Protection in Orleans Parish - YES
This would cap on millage rates for police and fire protection from five to 10 mills ONLY IN ORLEANS PARISH, giving the New Orleans City Council authority to levy additional mills with voter approval. This doesn't raise the rates, only allows the people of New Orleans to vote it themselves. (Because New Orleans is such a unique place, there are many exemptions in the Constitution for situations that are specific to their setting.)
7. Property Tax Exemption for Certain Disabled Veterans - YES
This would give a bonus homestead exemption to veterans rated with 100% “unemployability” in parishes where a similar tax break has been approved by voters. Many parishes have given special homestead exemptions to veterans with 100% disability ratings. This would extend that to veterans who are classified as "unemployable" due to service-related injuries. A small concession to those who paid a high price to serve our country, in my opinion.
This would establish the Artificial Reef Development Fund in the Constitution and prohibit using its money for purposes other than those described in the amendment. The fund already exists, but it it has often been raided to help balance the budget. While I think it is a noble cause, for the reasons outlined above, I can no longer support creating constitutionally protected funds, no matter how noble the purpose.
9. Tax Exemption Reporting for Permanently Disabled Residents - NO
This would eliminate the requirement that homeowners under the age of 65 who are permanently disabled must certify every year that their income meets the threshold for an assessment freeze. This would only affect approximately 5,660 people across yhe state. Eliminating the re-verification requirement would mean that assessors would be dependent on homeowners voluntarily reporting that their income had risen above the threshhold. An annual verification does not seem too burdensome to assure faireness.
10. Tax Sale of Vacant, Blighted or Abandoned Property - YES
This would shorten the redemption period for vacant blighted or abandoned property sold at a tax sale to 18 months after the sale has been recorded. This ONLY applies to vacant property declared "blight" by the taxing authority. If a homeowner simply falls behind on paying taxes and is still occupying the property, they still have the full three-year redemption period. (Note, Orleans Parish has had this 18-month window for blighted property since 1995 and it has helped them fight blight by getting properties to the tax sale sooner. This would expand that well-proven practice statewide.) (PLEASE VOTE YES as this would help PINEVILLE!)
11. Increases the Number of State Departments from 20 to 21 (Creating Department of Elderly Affairs) - NO
This would increase the limit of allowed state government departments from 20 to 21, effectively creating a Department of Elderly Affairs. As a proponent of smaller government, I don't think a whole new DEPARTMENT is needed. This could be more properly done through an existing department, saving much money.)
12. Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission Membership - YES
This would change the membership of the Wildlife and Fisheries Commission to require that two at-large members come from parishes north of a line created by Allen, Avoyelles, Beauregard, Evangeline and Pointe Coupee. The current makeup has 6 of the 7 members appointed from south Louisiana. This would give a more equal voice to the central and northern part of the state.
13. Orleans Lower Ningth Ward Vacant Property - YES
This would allow government-owned property in the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans to be sold to specified classes of buyers at a nominal rate to be established by the Legislature. As we all know, Katrina devastated New Orleans and they are still reeling from its impact. This would allow New Orleans to put more vacated and blighted property back onto the tax rolls by allowing them to be sold a less than the past-due taxes. Otherwise New Orleans will own these properties forever because no one will buy them.
14. Tax Rebates, Incentives and Abatements - NO
This would forbid the introduction of legislation related to tax rebates, tax incentives or tax abatements in even-numbered years when the Legislature holds a general session and specifically allow such legislation in odd-numbered years during fiscal sessions. The constitution calls for a fiscal-only session of the legislature every other year. However, tax rebates, incentives and abatements got left out of that ruling and this amendment seeks to include them. However, these are great tools used to attract out of state industries and businesses to Louisiana, and to restrict their use to every other year would hinder Louisiana's economic recovery and growth.
Public Affairs Council of Louisiana's Guide to the 2014 Constitutional Amendments (which I used extensively in explaining the amendments above) and the Council for A Better Louisiana's Recommendations. PAR doesn't make any recommendations and simply presents both sides of the issue. CABL does make recommendations, but explains why they make those recommendations. While I didn't follow their recommendations down the line, I did find their reasoning very helpful in helping me come to my own conclusions.