Our Views: Vote for constitutional amendments on the Nov. 13 ballot

With the enormous disruption caused by Hurricane Ida, Louisiana’s big elections this fall were postponed. And perhaps for that reason, there hasn’t been much attention on the four constitutional amendments on the Nov. 13 ballots.

But they are important, particularly Amendment 2, with far-reaching changes to the tax system of Louisiana. In every case, though, Louisiana continues to legislate through constitutional amendments rather than a more orderly process of the statutes.

We urge votes for the four amendments. Early voting begins Saturday.

Amendment 1. Sales tax collections. 

The amendment would start a process to allow the Legislature, after what would surely be highly political negotiations, to simplify sales tax collections for businesses.

Today’s complex local system of more than 50 tax collectors, often with differing definitions of what is taxable, is a huge burden for local businesses — especially compared to online retailers, who have a simplified system already. Louisiana is almost alone among the states in not taking this obvious pro-business step.

We encourage voters to start the process by voting yes — and if they do, we urge lawmakers to write rules guaranteeing that localities get the revenue they’re due promptly and predictably.

Amendment 2. Income tax rates.

Just as with sales taxes, income taxes — corporate and personal — are too complex a system in Louisiana. The many changes caused by adoption of this amendment would lower the top rate of personal income tax and should make Louisiana more competitive for new businesses.

To make the swap possible, it repeals the long-standing deduction for personal income taxes paid. If Louisiana’s tax is tied to the federal rates, that means state revenues are more volatile, going up or down depending on federal action. Most filers should see little if any difference in their individual tax bills.

“This is true tax reform,” the Public Affairs Research Council said. Others disagree because of specific problems with the approach of the Republican-led Legislature or because other tax problems are not addressed, but on the whole we see it as a tax swap worth making.

Amendment 3. Levee boards. 

Because of a constitutional quirk, some levee boards are not allowed to raise 5 mills of property taxes for operations. The amendment allows the outlier levee boards, through a complicated process, to do the same as the others have traditionally done.

It is a long-held principle that fighting floods requires all parishes in a levee system to contribute to common protection.

Again, this is somewhat legislating through constitutional amendment. Only five districts would be affected, including levee boards in St. Tammany and Tangipahoa, Iberia, and southwestern Louisiana parishes. To take effect in a given district, the measure would have to win majority approval statewide and also within the district.

Amendment 4. Dedicated funds.

In cases of budget deficits, the law currently allows the governor, with approval of the Legislature’s budget committee, to tap dedicated funds to avoid deficits.

This amendment would increase the amount that can be tapped from these dedications from 5% to 10%. The governor’s action would still require the approval of the budget committee made up of members of House and Senate. Some funds and dedications protected under the current system would remain protected.

Given Louisiana’s history of revenues fluctuating wildly from year to year — part of what Amendment 2 seeks to remedy — this amendment allows for reasonable adjustments in cases of threatened deficits.

We believe all four amendments, having passed by large majorities in the Legislature, deserve final approval by voters.

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