Candidates on Louisiana’s Oct. 14 primary ballot are about to drop a few million dollars over the next month or so to produce a statewide voter turnout that will likely come in at around 20 percent or less. That’s the best we can expect, even with all of the interesting personalities, hardcore politics and important policy issues wrapped up in this year’s elections.
So you can imagine how difficult it can be to get that same portion of the electorate to give a flying hoot about constitutional amendments. They appear on the bottom of major statewide ballots in Louisiana, and it’s always a head-shaker to discover hordes of voters ignoring that section.
That voter neglect, in fact, is a troubling trend that I seem to write about on a regular basis. During last year’s presidential election (Nov. 8, 2016) the top race that produced a winner in Donald Trump also drew more than 2 million votes in Louisiana. By comparison, the first of six constitutional amendments on the same ballot that year received 1.8 million votes total. Adding insult to injury, each subsequent referendum received fewer voters than the one that preceded it — meaning voters simply gave up and offered no opinions the lower they got on the ballot.
Hopefully this year will be different. There are a total of three constitutional amendments on the Oct. 14 ballot and all of them deserve your attention. But you’re likely to hear more noise being made about No. 1 on the list. A broad coalition is putting its influence — and its money — behind the proposed change to Louisiana’s guiding charter.
Post-Labor Day has always been the unofficial start to election season here, and amendments are treated the same way. This week the PAC will start spending money on radio ads, targeted digital buys, grassroots and engaging local chambers. A website, ProtectLaTaxpayers.com, went live a few days ago.
Consultant Danny Ford has taken the lead role for the Louisiana Taxpayer Protection PAC, which is dedicated solely to the first constitutional amendment voters will encounter. It involves CWIP, or “construction while in progress.” An over-simplified explainer is that the amendment would ban property tax assessments from being applied to construction work materials.
PAC members argue that passage “will keep housing and mortgage costs down for home and business owners” and that failure would result in a form of triple taxation. “Materials are already taxed as inventory before use and are then taxed after construction is complete,” according to the PAC’s outreach documents.
Again, with somewhere around 20 percent of the electorate expected to show up, making sure voters know this issue is even on the ballot is a top priority. “With such a small turnout it’s going to be about educating the voter,” Ford said.
Some parish assessors do have concerns about the amendment, but so far there doesn’t appear to be any organized opposition. Moreover, the Louisiana Assessors’ Association has not taken an official position on the proposal, said East Feliciana Assessor Jeff Gardner, chairman of LAA’s legislative committee.
Among those advocating the amendment are the Louisiana Realtors, Louisiana Homebuilders Association, Louisiana Municipal Association, Louisiana Police Jury Association, Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, Louisiana Association of General Contractors, Louisiana Chemical Association, Louisiana MidContinent Oil and Gas Association, Louisiana Energy Export Association and others.
The second constitutional amendment you’ll see on the October ballot creates a property tax exemption for the home of a wife or husband who lost their spouse in the line of public service. The amendment specifies deaths related to the duties of an “emergency medical responder, technician, paramedic, volunteer firefighter, or a law enforcement or fire protection officer.”
The proposal doesn’t reduce revenue for the state, but local governments could be pinched. “The effect on the homestead property tax base may be relatively small, but the (amendment) can only result in a reduction of that tax base,” according to the Legislative Fiscal Office, which added in its evaluation that the amendment could potentially result in a redistribution of local tax burdens to make up the difference.
The third amendment you’ll be asked to vote on would dedicate the cash generated from any prospective increase in gas taxes to a special construction fund. There are some strict perimeters connected to this proposal. The amendment states the money could only be used for “project delivery, construction and maintenance” of transportation and infrastructure projects — and not for administration or wages.
They’re definitely not the sexiest things on the ballot, but constitutional amendments are important. These proposals represent the most concrete ways lawmakers and voters can put ideas into the law. As such, they deserve your attention and, yes, your votes.