An Oversimplified Guide to the 2020 Louisiana Constitutional Amendments
In a hurry? Want the 411 on constitutional amendments without dialing the number? This guide’s for you. We boil each amendment and proposition down to why you would vote for or against them.
FUN FACT: Louisiana’s constitution is just three away from notching 200 amendments since it was adopted in 1974. This year, you have seven to weigh in on. In 231 years, the U.S Constitution has been amended 27 times.
#1: Abortion rights in Louisiana
The gist: Essentially, this amendment would add language to the state constitution to specify that it does not guarantee a right to an abortion. Here’s the language to be added:
“To protect human life, nothing in this constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.”
VOTE YES: Abortion rights opponents would generally vote yes. This would clearly declare there is no right to an abortion in Louisiana. An abortion ban statute is already on the books in Louisiana. Should this amendment pass and Roe v. Wade one day be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, that ban would take effect and withstand legal challenge from abortion rights advocates. Most people in Louisiana oppose abortion, and this bill would align the state’s constitution to reflect that.
VOTE NO: Abortion rights advocates would generally vote no. So long as Roe is in place, abortion rights are protected. But the ideological tilt of court is likely to soon be 6-3 in favor of conservatives, should the Senate confirm Amy Coney Barrett. If this amendment passes and Barrett is on the bench, abortion rights in Louisiana could be in serious jeopardy.
#2: Oil well property taxes
The gist: This amendment would change how property taxes are assessed on oil wells such that assessors would value them on how much they produce.
VOTE YES: Right now, how much an oil well produces isn’t a factor in setting its property taxes, which makes it hard to fairly determine value. The amendment would clarify that. High-producing wells would be taxed more. Low-producing wells would be taxed less. It’s common sense.
VOTE NO: We don’t really know how this will affect revenue for schools and parish governments. Taxes could go up. Taxes could go down. And it won’t be uniform. Should these changes lower taxes, it could hurt parish services people count on.
Note: This does not affect severance taxes collected by the state
#3: Easing rules on tapping Louisiana’s rainy day fund
The gist: This amendment would allow the legislature to use more of the budget stabilization fund — a.k.a. the rainy day fund — to cover the costs of disaster response.
VOTE YES: Current rules make it tricky for officials to plug holes with the state’s rainy day fund. This doesn’t totally unlock the piggy bank, but it does give officials more flexibility to match federal reimbursements. It could have come in handy this year.
VOTE NO: Baton Rouge can’t be trusted to manage its finances.The rules on the rainy day fund are sufficient to meet most emergency needs. We don’t need to give politicians more reasons to hit up the cookie jar.
#4: Changes how budget limits are calculated
The gist: This amendment creates a new method for calculating spending caps for the state budget and removes the old growth formula from the constitution. Moving forward, it could be changed by legislation.
VOTE YES: How we calculate state spending limits is unpredictable, and it always leads to more spending, never less. This amendment tethers what state government can spend to factors that reflect reality — not just growth in personal income — and reins in spending.
VOTE NO: Government needs flexibility to fund its services. There are other ways to stop spending without changing the constitution (again). The process proposed is complicated and puts de facto caps in place that may not be necessary.
*Note: Changes would take effect in 2024
#5: Creates another local tax incentive tool to attract businesses
The gist: Allows school boards, parish governments and other local taxing authorities to waive property taxes on new industry in exchange for negotiated payments — an economic incentive tool called payments in lieu of taxes or PILOTS.
VOTE YES: Louisiana needs more ways to fight for businesses that are going to other states with PILOTs. And this allows school boards and parish governments to waive taxes and negotiate payment terms on big industrial developments that put money in the bank faster. More businesses means more jobs. And more jobs means more revenue! That’s a win, win, win!
VOTE NO: This is yet another giveaway to industry that Louisiana doesn’t need. And this one could be even more generous than the industrial tax exemption program, already one of the nation’s biggest corporate welfare programs — and Louisiana is still super poor. Programs like PILOTS mortgage the public’s future for the short-term interest of corporations.
#6: Raises income limit for property tax freezes
The gist: This amendment would raise the income limit for seniors to qualify for freezes on their assessed property value to $100,000.
VOTE YES: Right now, homeowners over 65 can freeze the value of their primary residences to avoid paying higher property taxes, but only so long as they don’t make more than $77,000. Raising the income limit means more people would be eligible and could make Louisiana a more attractive place for retiring boomers. And there are lots of boomers.
VOTE NO: The tax freeze is for people on fixed incomes. The current threshold already covers the median household income by a comfortable margin. This change grows a loophole to Louisiana’s cheesecloth tax code without much to show for it.
#7: Creates a trust fund for unclaimed property
The gist: This amendment creates a permanent unclaimed property trust fund, replacing the current system, which allows state government to tap money taxpayers leave behind.
VOTE YES: Louisiana carries a $900-million time bomb in money unclaimed by taxpayers. And more and more of them are coming for what’s owed to them each year. This change would create a trust fund that would allow the state treasury to invest the money and keep the earnings, while making sure there’s enough in the bank to pay back claims when they happen.
VOTE NO: There really isn’t a problem here. For decades, Louisiana has collected more than it pays out, even if that number is shrinking. The leftover — around $12 million in 2019 — is a crucial revenue stream for government services. And investment income won’t replace it. The current system leaves more than enough room for people to make their claims and kick in money to the state’s general fund.
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