Changes address fiscal matters, property taxes
Five constitutional amendments appear on the October 22 primary election ballot. The first four amendments cover state fiscal matters, and the final covers property tax sales in New Orleans.
Amendment 1 is a combination of two separate legislative initiatives.
The first initiative caps the Millennium Trust Fund at its fiscal year 2011 balance of $1.38 billion. The fund was established in 1999 to hold tobacco litigation settlement proceeds.
Further settlement proceeds of around $40-$45 million per year would be placed into the TOPS Fund scholarship program.
Only the interest from the Millennium Fund is used each year and is distributed evenly among three funds: the Health Excellence Fund, the Educational Excellence Fund and the TOPS Fund.
The amendment will not change the interest distribution but will distribute the settlement proceeds to the TOPS Fund alone.
The Louisiana Fund, which was established for the same three purposes, is appropriated by the legislature every year.
The second initiative renews and makes permanent a 4-cent per pack cigarette tax and allocates the revenues to the Health Excellence Fund. Other tobacco taxes would not be affected.
The same tax renewal, when passed as a statute in June of this year, was vetoed by Governor Bobby Jindal.
Amendment 2 would require that a certain percentage of nonrecurring state revenue be used to pay down the pre-1988 unfunded accrued liabilities (UAL) for two state retirement systems: the Louisiana State Employees' Retirement System and the Teachers' Retirement System of Louisiana.
When the retirement systems were created in 1925, the legislature did not provide funding for them. In 1988, the legislature set up a 40-year plan to pay off the UALs of both systems.
The interest on the UALs exceeds the payments made to the systems each year.
The revenue would come from a number of nonrecurring sources, including budget surpluses, and would vary widely each year.
Amendment 3 would define the Patient's Compensation Fund as a private custodial fund in the constitution, thus protecting it from legislative appropriations. Legislative appropriations could still be paid into the fund.
The fund was created in 1975 to ensure affordable medical malpractice coverage is available to private healthcare providers and to provide reliable compensation for legitimate claims of injury due to medical malpractice.
Amendment 4 would change how the legislature must repay its Budget Stabilization "Rainy Day" Fund. Currently, a portion of the money must be paid back from the general fund in the same year as a withdrawal, even when the money was withdrawn to boost the general fund.
The amendment would prohibit the automatic flow of mineral revenue for both the remainder of the fiscal year of the withdrawal and the following fiscal year, except by specific legislative appropriation.
After that period, the flow of mineral revenue would resume. Payments could be no larger than one-third of the withdrawn amount each fiscal year until the withdrawal is repaid or the fund cap is reached.
Amendment 5 would change a reference in the constitution to New Orleans from an indirect reference to its outdated 2000 census population, to its name. This explicit reference would maintain a minimum bid exemption in the auction of tax-delinquent properties.
Early voting runs from Saturday, October 8 through Saturday, October 15 between 8:30 a.m. and 6 p.m., and is available to all registered voters. Ballots may be cast in the Webster Parish Registrar of Voters office in Minden at 410 Main St. room 103 for the entire period except Sunday, October 9.
Voting is also available in the Springhill Convention Center at 101 Machen Dr. in Springhill on Monday, October 10 and Tuesday, October 11.
Editor's Note: Much of the information in this article was compiled from the Public Affairs Research Council website (www.la-par.org)