State Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin, wants lawmakers to pass a constitutional amendment that would force local governments and political subdivisions to adhere to new guidelines for tax elections. The coming debate could be a barn burner, pitting the business lobby against school boards, parish councils, police juries, mayors and other local entities.
Allain’s SB 200 would require a minimum turnout of 20 percent of active voters to validate a local tax election. So even if a tax were to pass with no opposing votes, the ballot wouldn’t count if turnout was one less vote than the proposed threshold.
“If we’re going to take people’s hard-earned money, there should be a higher standard,” Allain said.
He contends that local governments often schedule tax propositions during off elections, where there are no high-profile races on the ballot and turnout will be low.
“That ends up costing taxpayers more when they do that,” he said. “They pay huge amounts of money to participate in off elections.”
Local governments aren’t exactly thrilled about the idea.
“You can look at several years’ worth of tax elections and there’s no difference in how they pass based on when the elections are held,” said a lobbyist. “You’re telling voters that their vote doesn’t count. You’re leaving elections up to the guy who stays home and sits on his couch. Why don’t we apply this same rule instead to legislative elections?”
Allain said he’s prepared for that argument.
“We can’t pick when we want to run,” he said.
Economic development enthusiasts like the concept, as higher millages are always being framed as impediments to attracting major companies.
“We’re in support of the legislation,” said Stephen Waguespack, president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry.
Allain said he’s considering moving the bill in two weeks. When it does appear before the Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee, he said he’ll likely amend the constitutional amendment to include one “safe harbor” election per year where the 20 percent target would not apply.