In The News › Let New Orleanians decide on nonprofit tax exemptions: A letter to the editor

Let New Orleanians decide on nonprofit tax exemptions: A letter to the editor

By Stacy Head, New Orleans Councilmember at large | The Times-Picayune

April 12, 2016

Don’t tax you, don’t tax me, tax that fellow behind the tree! – Russell B. Long

Voters just rejected a millage increase that was designed to cover pension debts and further fund the New Orleans Police Department. Although these are probably priorities for most New Orleanians, the voters made it clear that they can bear no more. What, then, is the solution? I believe it is a broadened tax base, which would spread the cost of paying for government services to more of those who use them.

I am delighted that the | Times-Picayune editorial board issued an opinion supporting tightening our state constitutional language related to non-profit ad valorem tax exemptions. Assessor Erroll Williams has done an admirable job valuing property and returning eligible properties to the tax rolls.

Unfortunately, the court system and the Louisiana Tax Commission continue to take what I consider to be an unreasonably broad view of the state’s constitutional exemptions. Therefore, the only way to achieve greater tax fairness at our local level is to allow for New Orleans voters to approve a constitutional amendment that would return thousands of currently tax-exempt properties (many of them blighted since Hurricane Katrina) to the tax rolls.

I have been advocating for a common sense approach to increasing tax equity for the last several years. Put simply, the burden of paying for government services should be shared by more of the people and entities who use them. Accordingly, the property tax exemptions should be strictly limited to only those places where an organization actually teaches, prays or fulfills the mission of the exempt organization. Although it appears that there is now a growing consensus among good government groups such as the Bureau of Governmental Research, the media and some local politicians (see the Tax Fairness Commission report of 2011 by Mayor Mitch Landrieu), there has been no action. We need to make this a priority and urge Governor John Bel Edwards to add a constitutional amendment to his call for the expected summer special session.

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