Every year, a small group of lawmakers pushes legislation to alter Louisiana’s homestead exemption. And every year before the regular session begins, lobbyists and pundits correctly predict that the proposals will go nowhere fast. This year’s session hasn’t been much different, except that the homestead exemption and other property tax issues have just recently emerged from the fray with a real momentum that points to change in either coming weeks or future years.
One of the main reasons the 19-year-old homestead exemption is facing alterations has to do with an online petition. During the past five months, the number of individuals signing the Internet appeal to raise Louisiana’s homestead exemption has practically tripled to nearly 60,000 names. In mid-January, the tally was less than 22,000.
Presently, Louisiana residents are not taxed on the first $75,000 of a home’s value. In Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes, that exemption amounts to at least $240 million each year in property taxes that don’t have to be paid. But is the $75,000 threshold still relevant? Joshua Kahler, a New Orleans Realtor, doesn’t think so.
He initiated the online petition — www.PetitionOnline.com/lahomeex/petition.html — to boost the figure because he says the benefits of the homestead exemption and the need to increase it for inflation have never been more important. “Homeowner taxes continue to increase as property values increase while the amount of the exemption remains fixed at 1982 property value levels,” Kahler says. “If adjusted for inflation alone the homestead exemption today would be over $160,000.”
Another possible catalyst for the renewed debate over the homestead exemption is your 2008 property tax bills. Since it was a reassessment year, many Louisiana homeowners likely noticed that their property taxes went up, and the figures are finally high enough to hold the average person’s attention. Adding to the interest is the fact that Louisiana’s $75,000 homestead exemption is already one of the highest in the country.
The biggest factor, however, was Gov. Bobby Jindal’s recent announcement that he supports an increase in the homestead exemption — a different stance than voters heard on the campaign trail in 2007. Few were more surprised than Dan Juneau, president of the Louisiana Association of Business & Industry. He says increasing the homestead exemption would essentially force renters, businesses and other homeowners to pick up the tab for the tax savings given to some homeowners. In Louisiana, almost 50 percent of the residents pay no property tax at the parish level, Juneau says, which results in business and commercial interests paying approximately 80 percent of the property tax burden. If the legislation the governor says he supports becomes law, that percentage will increase exponentially, he adds.
But Juneau is even more mystified by how stealthy Jindal’s support has been. “Gov. Jindal offered no reasons for supporting efforts to increase the homestead exemption,” he says. “I would hope that he does not suggest that an increase in the homestead exemption will result in a reduction of property taxes. It will not. Instead, it will transfer property taxes from some taxpayers to others who are already paying more than their fair share.”
Another sign that property taxes will receive solid once-overs in the session and future gatherings can likewise be seen in the number of bills addressing how local taxing bodies “roll forward” millages. When property values increase following the normal four-year reappraisals, Louisiana law requires local bodies to automatically roll back their millages to produce the exact same amount of money. But the law also allows these local entities to roll forward millages with a two-thirds vote.
Northshore Sen. Jack Donahue suggests the millage issue, particularly rolling forward, is at the heart of the homestead exemption debate, since it’s the real reason property taxes remain high. In other words, homeowners are suffering because local taxing bodies often use their discretionary power to roll forward millages after property is reappraised. That’s why he’s filed a constitutional amendment that would allow only elected bodies, like the school board, to roll forward or increase a millage — basically a property tax — after it has been approved by voters. Unelected bodies would be the ones prohibited.
Other lawmakers have similar bills, and while their fates are unknown, Donahue says more people are becoming aware of how the system really works. “If enough money does come in, millages are rolled forward even past what the voters voted on,” he says. “If voters had voted on 10 mills and it takes 15 mills to make the same amount of money, then the millage is rolled forward to 15 mills. Most people don’t know that.”
MAY 20 This post by blogger CB Forgotston draws parallels between Gov. Bobby Jindal and two individuals he probably doesn't want to be aligned with: President Obama and former governor Edwin Edwards. CB says Jindal's trying to jack up the debt ceiling (an Obama play, according to CB) and buy votes from GOP leges who normally wouldn't go for that (an Edwards play, CB says).
MAY 20 Here's a post in the Baptist Message from an alumnus of Louisiana College. The author, Larry Burgess, calls on the leadership of the private school to take care of some pressing problems. Physical plant issues are critical and unaddressed, some faculty make so little they need government health care, and there is an atmosphere that does not encourage honest discussion, he writes. It's time to get things back in order, he says.
MAY 20 This post in Gambit tells of a benefit concert scheduled to raise money for the 19 people shot during a Mother's Day second line on Frenchmen Street in NOLA. Among them was Gambit blogger Deb Cotton, who spoke frequently about violence in the city and reported on the city's second line culture. Gambit's foundation, along with other NOLA non-profits, also is selling t-shirts to raise money for the victims.
MAY 20 Blogger Robert Mann is critical of the personal interest some legislators take in their work here, sharing the comments one NOLA solon made in explaining his decision to vote against a bill that would require people to stop discriminating against female workers. His wife might lose some salary, so he was going to have to vote against the equal pay bill, Conrad Appel said. Appel and everyone who heard him should have been ashamed, but they weren't, and that's what is wrong in that building, Mann argues.
MAY 20 American Press columnist Jim Beam writes about the budget again here, urging kudos for the House and its efforts to try to fix the budget as opposed to passing on a flawed and messy rubber-stamped document as it usually does. The Senate already is poo-pooing the effort, but instead Senators should be trying to find a way to improve it as well, Beam argues. He also has some predictions in here from LABI and CABL.
MAY 20 Here's a link to the photo gallery from Tulane's graduation this past weekend. Dr. John and Allen Toussaint played together and received honorary degrees. The Dalai Lama was so entranced by their performance he got up from his seat and walked across the stage to stand next to them. He even participated in a second line with his own personal, saffron-colored umbrella. To the graduates, he urged them to think about creating a peaceful, hopeful life and society.
MAY 20 This Picayune story questions the rhetoric of NOLA officials who say the city, aside from having a "murder problem," is safe. The talking points generally are that the criminals are killing each other, but everything else is OK. The police chief there says that even Lafayette is more dangerous than NOLA. But crime experts interviewed here say that NOLA's numbers indicate one of two things: either people are so used to violence they don't report it, or somebody's "fudging the numbers."
MAY 20 The Advocate's Mark Ballard writes about some of the background maneuvering that took place during the development of budget alternatives in the Legislature. From Rep. Joel Robideaux being called a "tax and spend liberal" to robo-call influence, Ballard lets us in on some of the work that happens behind the scenes but usually doesn't make it into the Advocate's daily coverage of the session.
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