By: Camille Conaway
The polls are open across Louisiana for early voting, and so far more than 200,000 of our fellow citizens have already cast their vote. Election Day is Saturday, October 12, but you can still vote early now through October 5.
At LABI, our members have been preparing for this day for more than a year, recruiting pro-business candidates to run for office, hosting campaign trainings and conducting policy research and advocacy. The political action committees affiliated with LABI have endorsed more than 100 candidates for statewide office, the state board of education, the state Supreme Court and the Legislature. Sample ballots of the "jobs candidates" in every city and region in the state are available at www.labi.org.
LABI is also supporting three Constitutional Amendments that appear toward the end of a long ballot. Don’t give up before you get to the end – there are important issues at stake.
LABI urges voters to support Constitutional Amendment No. 1, which clarifies long-standing practice whereby raw materials and goods stored and destined for the Outer Continental Shelf in the Gulf of Mexico were not subject to the inventory tax – similar to goods in interstate commerce. Louisiana’s offshore activity has a $73 billion impact on the state’s economy, supporting more than 250,000 jobs. Some local officials have recently sought to tax goods headed offshore, which will likely lead to lengthy and costly litigation or force oil and gas companies to move the materials and send the work to other Gulf Coast states.
This Amendment will help the oil and gas service sector in Louisiana remain competitive with neighboring states at a critical time for the industry, which has lost tens of thousands of jobs in the recent downturn. The Advocate editorial board recently endorsed Constitutional Amendment No. 1, noting “The major energy companies can’t do anything about the price of oil, but they might well, in a time of lowered profits, react unfavorably to new tax burdens. We urge voters to approve this amendment…”
LABI urges voters to support Constitutional Amendment No. 2, which makes a minor change to allow more schools and educational programs to access public dollars in the Education Excellence Fund. These investment earnings from the tobacco settlement are dedicated to public education, and the Amendment would add THRIVE Academy, the Louisiana Educational Television Authority, and lab schools operated by public colleges to the list of schools eligible for funding. The total estimated distribution to these schools is $190,228 of a total of roughly $15.6 million. The bill passed the Legislature unanimously, and LABI agrees that public funding should be available for an array of school models and choices.
LABI urges voters to support Constitutional Amendment No. 3, which seeks to allow more tax disputes to go before the Board of Tax Appeals and avoid costly, lengthy litigation. Currently, the Board of Tax Appeals exists as an optional trial court, and an estimated 99 percent of tax cases are filed with the Board because most litigants prefer judges with expertise in tax law to oversee the case. When there is a constitutional question today, however, the case must be transferred to district court and later sent back to the Board of Tax Appeals for trial on the underlying issues. This cumbersome transfer is administratively burdensome and can leave the matter in limbo for years, so this Amendment would permit the Board of Tax Appeals to hear the entire case before it including any constitutional considerations with the fallback plan to appeal the decision to state courts.
It's true that the Louisiana Constitution is lengthy and has been amended far too many times over four decades. LABI supports the concept of a constitutional convention to address many of the fiscal constraints embedded in the Constitution that tie the hands of the Legislature and administration and prevent systemic reform. However, until we have a new Constitution, we should seek to change the existing one in the interests of improving and enacting more common-sense public policy.
The days are getting shorter, but busier. Amidst the first cool front and exciting football match-ups and fall breaks at school, don’t forget to head to the polls and support dozens of first-time candidates who will be leading Louisiana for years to come - and remember to vote “yes” on those Amendments, too.
Camille Conaway is the Senior Vice President of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, where she leads public policy and research initiatives across a range of issues important to LABI and the business community.