In a noticeable change of pace, voters will only have to read through four proposed constitutional amendments on the Oct. 24 ballot, including two that would institute substantive changes to the way state transportation projects are funded.
There were 14 amendments on the fall 2014 ballot, and voters complained about information overload and good government groups accused lawmakers of abusing the process.
Things could have been different this go-round. Louisiana lawmakers introduced more constitutional amendments this year than any other since 2010. Of the 67 proposed amendments that were introduced during the 2015 session that adjourned on June 11, only four survived.
Lawmakers say this year's low success rate for proposed amendments was attributable to the contentious debate over taxes and fees — and a $1.6 billion budget shortfall that sucked everything into its vortex. The House and Senate were quick to dismiss complicated measures that had little or no impact on the state's fiscal challenges.
The two highest-profile amendments that will be on the fall ballot track public opinion support for changing the way state transportation projects are funded.
The first is a proposal by state Sen. Robert Adley, D-Benton, that would steer state mineral revenues — cash derived from oil and gas activities — toward transportation projects rather than depositing that money into Louisiana's so-called "rainy day fund," known formally as the Budget Stabilization Fund.
If adopted by voters, the amendment would steer up to $21 million to transportation projects beginning in July 2017. Adley said that haul could reach $100 million a year — but oil prices would have to climb back above $100 a barrel for that to happen. No one can predict when that might occur.
But Adley's amendment has a catch: The $21 million or so that would come in 2017 from mineral revenues would replace up to $400 million a year that is scheduled to go into the transportation fund starting in 2020. Right now that money — from vehicle sales taxes — goes into the state general fund. The theory behind Adley's proposed revenue swap is based largely on the belief that the state general fund can't take a hit of $400 million a year.
Adley says the trade-off is necessary to keep pace with the state's immediate — and bloated — backlog of transportation construction projects. He also argues that the state's gasoline tax, which helps underwrite road and highway work, is no longer an effective budgeting tool because cars and trucks are more fuel-efficient than ever. The gasoline tax is based on volume (i.e. a per-gallon tax), not on the price of gasoline.
The Baton Rouge-based Public Affairs Research Council (PAR) summed up Adley's plan this way: A large future revenue source for roads and infrastructure would be eliminated, and in its place would be more speculative sources for transportation funding.
Then there's House Bill 618 by state Rep. Karen St. Germain, D-Plaquemine, which would allow the state to invest public funds in an infrastructure bank for transportation projects. St. Germain described the infrastructure bank as a revolving loan program of sorts, with minimal finance costs that would allow local governments to move forward with a variety of transportation projects, including port infrastructure work.
Elsewhere, voters will be asked to decide the fate of two other constitutional amendments:
• House Bill 360 by Rep. Bubba Chaney, R-Rayville, would make sure property taxes on Louisiana land owned by other states or out-of-state political subdivisions are paid to the Louisiana treasury. Currently other states don't pay these taxes.
• House Bill 518 by Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, would clarify the kinds of tax, rebate and revenue bills that can be filed in "fiscal" legislative sessions, which are held during odd-numbered years.
— Jeremy Alford is a freelance journalist in Baton Rouge. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @alfordwrites.