In The News › Let New Orleans ask voters for more police, fire resources: Editorial

Oct 22, 2014

Source: | The Times-Picayune

Filed under: On the Ballot, Orleans Parish

Let New Orleans ask voters for more police, fire resources: Editorial

The | The Times-Picayune Editorial Board

October 22, 2014

The | Times-Picayune editorial board makes the following recommendations on constitutional amendments on the Nov. 4 ballot.

Amendment No. 1

To give the Medical Assistance Trust Fund constitutional protections and set a minimum state reimbursement for nursing homes, intermediate care facilities and pharmacies


Nursing homes, intermediate care facilities and pharmacies in Louisiana pay a provider fee, which goes into this trust fund to be used for matching federal Medicaid money. It is understandable that those providers would want to hold onto these resources. But it is a bad idea to give the fund constitutional protection and require a specific reimbursement rate for institutions. That would further limit the Legislature’s flexibility to balance the budget and provide for the state’s overall health care needs. State policy and individual families are moving away from institutional care for the elderly, but this amendment would prevent the trust fund’s resources from being used for home-based care and support services. The Council for a Better Louisiana fears that restricting the use of the $120 million trust fund would make those alternative services more vulnerable to budget cuts. That would not be good for senior citizens in Louisiana. Some elderly Louisianians need nursing home care, of course. But there are others who could remain independent with a little support, and lawmakers need the ability to provide those services as well.

Amendment No. 2

To create a Hospital Stabilization Fund in the Constitution, establish a hospital provider fee to be used for federal Medicaid matching money and set a base reimbursement rate for hospitals


There are good ideas in this amendment. It is a practical approach to generating additional federal Medicaid resources to pay for the care of poor patients at Louisiana hospitals. Other states have already put this sort of fund in place. But it should be created in state statute — as has been done elsewhere — not enshrined in the Constitution. Louisiana already has too many constitutional restrictions on revenues, which is why higher education and health care have suffered the bulk of budget cuts in tight times. It is understandable that hospitals would want to protect this money, but further limiting the use of revenues would put more pressure on higher education and other services that don’t have constitutional protections.

Amendment No. 3

To allow local governments to use outside companies to collect delinquent taxes through property sales


The Louisiana Municipal Association says that 43 local governments across the state already have agreements with outside collectors. But a recent state Supreme Court ruling has thrown the practice into question. This amendment would explicitly grant city and parish government entities permission to use outside collections companies, which could charge the property owners no more than a 10 percent fee above the taxes owed. It is reasonable to give governments flexibility to outsource what can be a complex process.

Amendment No. 4

To allow the state to invest public money in an infrastructure bank


This amendment is only the first step toward setting up a fund to finance state transportation projects, something states such as South Carolina did years ago. Legislators passed a bill in the spring to create the infrastructure bank but made it contingent on passage of this and a second constitutional amendment. The other amendment did not make it to the ballot, but passing this one would at least get the process started.

Amendment No. 5

To repeal the portion of the Constitution that prohibits judicial candidates 70 years old or older from running for office


Amendment No. 6

To allow the voters of Orleans Parish to choose to pay more in property tax for police and fire protection


This amendment does not raise taxes in New Orleans; it only gives the City Council the authority to ask city voters for an increase for police and fire services in the future. Current law allows the city to levy up to 5 mills of property tax specifically for police and 5 mills for fire protection. This amendment would increase the maximum by 5 mills for each, for a total of up to 10 mills. With the chronic need for additional police officers and the strain on city resources because of firefighter pension costs, Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the City Council need the ability to ask voters for more resources. As CABL noted, all communities should be able to make their own on taxes. The Louisiana Constitution puts too many restrictions on that ability, which is why this amendment needs to pass statewide as well as in New Orleans.

Amendment No. 7

To amend language approved by voters in 2010 doubling the homestead exemption on property taxes to $150,000 for veterans with a 100 percent disability rating to also include those rated 100-percent unemployable


The | Times-Picayune editorial board has been opposed to expanding the homestead exemption, which is already very generous in Louisiana. We opposed the original constitutional amendment doubling the exemption for certain disabled veterans and their spouses. But that amendment passed statewide and has been implemented in parishes where voters agreed to do so. Some veterans who are disabled have been denied the exemption because of confusion between the two ratings given by the VA. This amendment would correct that, which seems the fair thing to do. The Public Affairs Research Council notes that the fiscal impact on local governments would be minimal.

Amendment No. 8

To give the Artificial Reef Development Fund constitutional protection


The effort to develop reefs and strengthen fisheries is important to Louisiana residents, and this fund should be used for that. But there is already too much state revenue restricted by the Constitution for a single purpose. That practice puts an undue strain on higher education and other services that don’t have constitutional protections. The Legislature needs the ability to meet the state’s highest budget priorities, which it can’t do if more and more resources are tied up.

Amendment No. 9

To eliminate the requirement for disabled residents to verify each year that their annual income is below $70,000 in order to keep a special property tax exemption


Disabled Louisiana residents should be treated fairly and with respect, but this amendment is not sound public policy. It is important to verify income to ensure the exemption is going only to people who qualify for it. That process should be made as simple and convenient as possible, but it should be continued.

Amendment No. 10

To provide 18 months for owners to buy back blighted, abandoned property that is sold at auction for delinquent taxes


New Orleans already has the 18-month buy-back provision in place, but other parishes are required to give owners three years to reclaim blighted property. The amendment deals only with vacant, blighted property. If a home is occupied and the owner is simply behind on taxes, the three-year provision remains intact. Blighted property contributes to crime and other safety issues in neighborhoods, and communities need to be able to give neighbors relief as quickly as is reasonable. Eighteen months gives owners sufficient time to clear up back taxes and redeem blighted property.

Amendment No. 11

To increase the maximum number of executive branch offices in state government


This proposal stems from 2013 legislation authorizing the creation of the Department of Elderly Affairs. But the cabinet-level department can’t be formed because the state already has the 20 departments allowed by the Constitution. Providing comprehensive and high quality services to the elderly is an important function of state government, but the Office of Elderly Affairs is already in place and should be able to handle the task.

Amendment No. 12

To change the composition of the Wildlife and Fisheries Commission to ensure that at least two members come from the portion of the state north of Allen, Avoyelles, Beauregard, Evangeline and Pointe Coupe parishes


It is understandable that northern Louisiana residents want to have representation on the commission, but this level of detail does not need to be in the Constitution. The Legislature should deal with the issue of where commission members live by statute, which would allow adjustments over time as needed.

Amendment No. 13

To allow the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority to sell lots in the Lower 9th Ward to certain buyers below market value


Looking for ways to jumpstart rebuilding in New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward, which was devastated by flooding in 2005, is important. But there are a number of problems with this amendment. NORA officials have raised concerns about a potential conflict with federal regulations, since many of the lots were acquired through the federally funded Road Home program. In addition, the amendment gives the Legislature the power to set the lot price and determine who is eligible to buy. The companion legislation to the amendment sets the lot price at $100, which is arbitrary and well below the appraised value of the lots. The Bureau of Governmental Research points out that the legislation also doesn’t include protections to ensure the lots are redeveloped, and NORA and city officials are given no say over whether the lots should be sold for such a low price. That could set a bad precedent not only here, but statewide.

Amendment No. 14

To restrict proposed legislation on tax rebates, incentives and abatements to the Legislature’s fiscal-only sessions


These matters fit with the other tax issues that are dealt with in fiscal-only sessions and ought to be handled then and not during general sessions.

Oct 22, 2014

Source: | The Times-Picayune

Filed under: On the Ballot, Orleans Parish

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