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Commentary: Nov. 8 ballot propositions in New Orleans 

Election Day, Nov. 8, is now just three weeks away — and early voting starts next Tuesday, Oct. 25. The ballot in Louisiana features much more than hotly contested presidential and U.S. Senate races. There are scores of local elections, six proposed state constitutional amendments, and several important ballot propositions in New Orleans. We begin our election recommendations this week with an examination of the constitutional amendments and local ballot propositions. All propositions appear on the ballot in the form of questions, to be answered either "Yes" or "No." Voting "Yes" means you support the proposition; voting "No" signals your opposition.

Amendment 1
Voter Registrars:
This amendment would allow the Legislature to enact qualifications for voter registrars across the state. Registrars are appointed by local governing bodies (typically councils or police juries), and at present there are no professional or work requirements for people who apply for vacant positions. If this amendment is passed, laws recently enacted will take effect and provide minimal requirements for anyone wishing to serve as a voter registrar. We recommend voting YES on this amendment.

Amendment 2
Higher Ed Tuition Authority:
Louisiana is the only state in America that requires a two-thirds vote of the legislature to approve tuition and fee increases. In fact, only two states require legislative approval at all. This amendment would allow Louisiana's higher education management boards to set annual tuitions and fees without legislative approval. According to the nonpartisan Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana (PAR), our Legislature is "sometimes slow to act," which puts public universities across the state in a doubly difficult position; they typically cannot price themselves in a competitive manner, nor can they raise enough tuition revenue to deliver appropriate education services to their students. While tuition and fee increases would cost more for students and their parents, much of that could be covered by the TOPS program for qualified students or by other grants available to students from families of modest means. Equally important, passage of the amendment will help provide critical funding for colleges and universities as they struggle to recover from seven consecutive years of draconian cuts — proportionately the highest in the nation — under former Gov. Bobby Jindal and previous legislatures. We urge our readers to vote YES on Amendment 2.

Amendment 3
Eliminate Corporate Tax Deduction:
Louisiana is one of only three states that allows corporations to deduct the amount paid in federal income taxes from their state income during the same year. This deduction is enshrined in the state constitution. PAR cites the state Department of Revenue in concluding that this deduction costs the state some $200 million a year in revenue. If this amendment is passed, recently enacted companion legislation would give corporations a trade-off in the form of a flat 6.5 percent corporate income tax rate — down from the highest current rate of 8 percent. Many companies would not see a major change in state income taxes owed because smaller companies, which are taxed at a lower corporate rate, tend to be LLCs or "S" corporations whose income "flows through" to a small group of owners, who pay the personal income tax rate rather than face double taxation. We recommend voting YES on Amendment 2.

Amendment 4
Property Tax Exemption for Sur- viving Spouses of Persons Killed in the Line of Duty:
This proposed amendment adds another exemption to the state constitution for a surviving spouse of a person who died while on active duty. It would apply in cases of death of members of the U.S. armed forces, the Louisiana National Guard, State Police, law enforcement or fire protection officers. Surviving spouses would receive a 100 percent exemption on the full assessed value of their homes. While we generally feel there are too many property tax exemptions, this one is a gesture of public support for widows and widowers whose spouses have made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our country and local communities. We recommend voting YES on Amendment 4.

Amendment 5
Revenue Stabilization Trust Fund:
This amendment would establish a new trust fund into which the state treasurer would deposit a portion of mineral revenues and corporate income and franchise tax revenues above a certain threshold. Interest generated by the trust fund would be allocated to the state General Fund, providing substantial revenue to the state over time — though not any time soon. The trust fund also would help reduce Louisiana's wildly out-of-control unfunded accrued liability (UAL) for retirement benefits. Over time, dedicating revenues from these fluctuating sources, such as mineral production, helps smooth out revenue volatility and should, in time, improve Louisiana's credit ratings. Seven other states have established similar funds. We recommend voting YES on Amendment 5.

Amendment 6
Adjusting Thresholds for Tapping Protected Funds:
This amendment sounds scary on its face, but it actually should buttress higher education and health care from future draconian cuts. It would make it easier for state lawmakers during tight fiscal times to access certain (not all) dedicated funds in order to more equitably distribute necessary cuts across a variety of state programs and reserves. According to PAR, "spreading the pain of cuts across several areas would reduce the severity of the reductions made to any one particular component of the budget" and "buy the Legislature more time to produce comprehensive budget solutions" during lean fiscal years. We recommend voting YES on Amendment 6.

New Orleans Charter Amendment
Independence of Inspector General, Police Monitor and Ethics Review Board:
After Hurricane Katrina, the City Council created three important ethics entities to bring greater transparency and accountability to City Hall. Unfortunately, two of those agencies — the Inspector General and the Independent Police Monitor — were locked in a public battle last year over their respective roles and budgetary authority. The proposed charter amendment puts an end to that budgetary dispute and further provides a mechanism to "watch the watchdogs." We recommend our readers in New Orleans vote YES on the City Charter Amendment.

New Orleans Improvement and Crime Prevention Districts:
Voters in four New Orleans neighborhoods will be asked to approve flat fees dedicated to neighbor- hood improvement and crime prevention. Over the years, special neighborhood districts have boosted citizen confidence in public safety by using self-imposed property fees to pay for increased security patrols and other improvements. The neighborhoods whose security districts (and the proposed annual fee renewals) are on the ballot Nov. 8 include Lake Forest Estates ($485 a year), Lake Vista ($220 a year), Lakeshore ($360 a year) and Oak Island ($150 a year). The flat fees would be dedicated to improvements and security within the defined neighborhood districts. We recommend voters in those respective neighborhoods say YES to the crime prevention districts.

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