The second proposed constitutional amendment on the Nov. 2 ballot will ask voters whether the state should triple the amount of money each parish receives for producing oil and natural gas.
According to the Louisiana Constitution, energy-producing parishes are allowed to keep 20 percent of the severance taxes they generate from oil-and-gas production now, with an annual cap at $850,000. The cap is adjusted annually for inflation, and last year’s total for the calendar year was $907,534 per parish.
But Amendment 2 would fatten that maximum to $2.85 million over a two-year period.
The sharing of severance taxes goes back to the 1921 state constitution and relates to all natural resources except sulphur, lignite and timber. The sharing process was needed because local governments were complaining about the wear and tear energy production was placing on their roads, bridges, wetlands and waterways.
That theme remains today, and Amendment 2 clearly stipulates that at least half of the proposed increase would have to be directed to transportation needs.
Locally, the amendment could mean more money. In 2009, Lafayette Parish collected nearly $9 million in oil and gas severance taxes alone, based on figures compiled by the Department of Natural Resources.
The amendment came about through Act 541 by Rep. Rick Gallot, D-Ruston, which was supported unanimously by lawmakers from the Acadiana area. According to an analysis by the Legislative Fiscal Office, the amendment could mean a combined boost of $47 million a year for 30 parishes.
The proposed amendment has several boosters ranging from Gov. Bobby Jindal and Citizens for a Better Louisiana to Louisiana Ducks Unlimited and the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association. The Police Jury Association of Louisiana created a political action committee to raise and spend money to promote the passage of Amendment 2.
Police Jury Association Executive Director Roland Dartez has labeled it the “fair share amendment” and said the money will be used to “build roads and bridges” across the state. “It will also provide funding for general parish services,” Dartez said.
Jim Brandt, president of the Public Affairs Research Council, said opponents question the need for the state to give up more revenue to benefit parishes that already receive other money from the economic activity associated with severance operations, like jobs and sales taxes. If mineral resources are considered assets of the state as a whole, then the dedication prevents the state from using its revenue where most needed, opponents argue.
In 2006 and again in 2008, voters were presented with similar constitutional amendments to alter the severance-tax cap. The 2006 amendment increased the cap from $750,000 to $850,000, along with an annual inflation adjustment, which is where the maximum remains today.
In 2008, voters were asked to raise the limit to the $2.85 million level the current amendment proposes, but voters statewide rejected the idea. However, it passed by 55 percent in Lafayette Parish.
This time, supporters are hoping for a different outcome. “Supporters of the current proposal say the ballot language in the 2008 proposal made it seem to some voters as if a tax increase rather than a tax shift was being proposed,” Brandt said. “The new ballot language presents the change as a decrease in the amount of taxes the state retains rather than as an increase in the amount of taxes the parishes receive.”
Amendment 2 would also create the Atchafalaya Basin Conservation Fund. The fund would support new projects by dedicating half of all severance- tax collections from state lands in the basin to the fund, or up to $10 million annually.
MAY 24 Blogger Robert Mann posts this entry about the Baton Rouge Chamber's recent report on Louisiana's higher education system. It's critical to economic development, and yet our system is facing a "funding crisis" with no way to resolve it, the report says. The Chamber says control of tuition and fees must be returned to the higher ed governing boards.
MAY 24 Here's a NBC33 story about Tyrann Mathieu. He has signed with the Arizona Cardinals, inking a $3 million, four-year deal. He gets a signing bonus of $265K, but gets another, larger bonus if he doesn't get cut from the team for doing drugs. The deal reportedly includes mandatory tests and meetings for the player.
MAY 24 Jarvis DeBerry posts here about the redonkulus rhetoric that would have us believe NOLA is a safe city with a murder problem. Maybe the city's crime stats don't compare with its murder stats because you can't manipulate a murder, he says: a dead body's a dead body. It just doesn't make sense, he says, and his readers agree: a poll asks if they believe the city is safe, and more than 90 percent say no.
MAY 24 Jindal administration officials announced Thursday that the privatization of public health care is going to cost a lot more than they budgeted for, the Advocate reports here. "I'm so surprised," said no one. Anywhere. The cost they're projecting now is more than $1 billion - a lot more than the $626 million budgeted for it. And, it's more than it cost the state to operate those hospitals. So why are we doing this again?
MAY 24 Blogger CB Forgotston ridicules the recent PR campaign by the state GOP in the wake of a legislative auditor's request to both major parties. The GOP (apparently unaware that the Dems got the same request) started yammering about being targeted because it had "killed" a tax increase. CB finds that laughable, but it's also pretty funny that the GOP was comparing this episode to the IRS scandal (Because the President has so much to do with our state auditor. Right?).
MAY 24 Politico details some recent fund-raising efforts by Sen. David Vitter, which have raised the question of his future political plans. This time, it is a $5,000 per head "bayou weekend" that includes "Cajun cooking" and an all-caps "alligator hunt," the story reports. Funds raised go to a super PAC that can spend money to support Vitter in federal or state races, the story points out.
MAY 24 The pink building on Royal in the quarter was sold at a sheriff's sale Thursday, this Picayune story reports. An injunction that would have halted the sale wasn't enforced because the family failed to post a $150,000 bond, the story reports. So the owner of the mortgages on the building bought it, for nearly $7 million. Now the feuding family will have to negotiate with that company to get a lease on the building that has housed their business for close to 60 years.
MAY 23 This post in Louisiana Voice tells us about a bill by a Winnsboro lege that would require all public high school students to take at least one Course Choice online class in order to graduate. (What?) Blogger Tom Aswell says it's a monument to "waste and corruption," especially in light of the problems he's exposed with the program in recent weeks. Idaho had a similar program, but voters removed it by a 2-1 margin, Aswell says.
There will soon be a whole lot of shakin’ going on at Benny’s Sportshack Supplement Depot, a new concept by Opelousas native Benny Nele. Located at 2002 Johnston St., the supplement shop, smoothie bar and café, featuring hot off the press paninis and wraps, plans to open in late May.
Philip deMahy Sr., a once respected New Iberia ad exec, was sentenced May 2 to spend the next two years (he faced up to 100 years) in a state penitentiary after state and federal investigators found dozens of images depicting children engaged in lewd sexual acts on his personal computer.