01 April 2005

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Prefiled bills -- Week of Apr. 1, 2005

THE GOOD: There were a couple of strong anti-corruption, anti-get-along-go-along bills introduced in the Senate that contended for this honor this week. SB 43 defangs the unaccountable Louisiana Agricultural Finance Authority's ability to dodge public bid laws, courtesy of James David Cain, Agriculture Secretary Bob Odom's biggest legislative critic and increasingly trying to lead the Legislature to quit making the state Odom's plaything. SB 44 by Art Lentini goes after the activities of the second-most arrogant politician in the state, Insurance Commissioner Robert Wooley, by increasing accountability in purchase of state vehicles by officials.

But top marks this week go to HB 94 by Rep. A.G. Crowe which wants to put forward a constitutional amendment to make tax millage roll-forwards permissible only by unanimous consent. Presently, when reassessment of property occurs, if a higher amount of property tax dollars in a jurisdiction occurs, local governing authorities can take advantage of that additional revenue only if two-thirds of their memberships approve. This is to prevent reasessments done to flush automatically cash into government, essentially triggering a tax increase on people who hold property that have not improved it.

Unanimity is a proper goal because in the use of property taxes by local governments, a vote of the people is required to assess the millage in the first place. A roll-forward essentially causes a tax increase without direct input by the people. Without that, local governing authorities should be held to the highest possible standard before allowing a roll-forward, and that would be unanimity. And that already in effect is the requirement for sheriffs, since those jurisdictions are governed by a single executive instead of a legislative body.

THE BAD: SB 47 would aggravate the most underreported problem in state finance, the obsession of a few politicians, lawyers, lobbyists, contractors, and developers with building lake after lake. Moon Griffon and The Dead Pelican have been in the forefront of bringing this to the attention of the state's taxpayers, man-made lakes costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars with no real value to anybody outside of a very select few. In this instance, Sen. Robert Barham's bill would grant the Morehouse Parish Lake Commission to levy taxes, issue bonds, and incur indebtedness.

This is the first step in expanding powers of a government organization to build another unneeded lake in the state. Too many are out there or on the drawing board already; stopping this bill will neuter the ability of at least one more to be foisted upon the state's taxpayers.

THE UGLY: Of course HB 87 can be seen as a well-meaning bill. Rep. Diane Winston's legislation would create a sales tax exemption for materials bought by Habitat for Humanity in the construction of its sweat-equity, donated houses. As laudable as this may be, what makes ugly bills ugly is they carve out exceptions that serve some special interest, even a valuable one, make more confusing the law, and beg the quesiton why other similarly-situated interests don't get the same treatment.This would join a list of 50-odd activities exempted in RS 47:305, but what about organizations that do things like Habitat for Humanity? Maybe not just houses, but perhaps other projects that have a charitable purpose? Once you make an exception, you can't deny others, and the definition grows of what qualifies, the slope gets slipperier, and the tax code and administration of the exception becomes more jumbled and complicated than ever.

SCORECARD: 114 House prefiles (including budget bills), 3 withdrawals ;47 Senate prefiles, 2 withdrawals.

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