- Associated Press - Saturday, October 22, 2016

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Louisiana’s higher education leaders want voters to give them the authority to raise tuition rates on college campuses without needing legislative approval. They just can’t push too hard because of limits on public employee advocacy for and endorsements of ballot items.

The proposed constitutional change, which would end the requirement of a two-thirds vote of state lawmakers for college tuition and fee hikes, is the highest profile constitutional amendment of six awaiting voters on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Others would change Louisiana’s corporate tax structure, create a new state trust fund and rewrite budget-cutting rules. Lawmakers passed the six proposals earlier this year, but voters need to sign off on them to take effect.

TUITION AUTHORITY

The most attention-grabbing proposal, Amendment No. 2, touches the wallets of students and parents. It would end a near-annual struggle between public colleges and universities and state lawmakers over whether to boost tuition and fees.

Instead, that decision would be left to the state’s four public college system management boards to decide the appropriate rates to charge students.

Higher education leaders pushed to take over the authority, and campus chancellors, alumni and others are speaking to community groups and local media about the idea in a grassroots effort to build support.

But they’re leaving the direct, pro-amendment advocacy to a group funded by business leaders and alumni that is planning billboards, digital advertising and a social media push ahead of the election.

BUSINESS TAXES

Louisiana voters are being asked to consider reworking state business taxes.

The question on the ballot for Amendment No. 3 asks voters if they agree to do away with a tax break that allows businesses to deduct the federal income taxes they pay from their state tax liability. If voters approve, corporations in exchange would be taxed at a flat rate of 6.5 percent, rather than varying rates from 4 percent to 8 percent.

The changes would take effect in 2017.

Supporters of the idea said the changes would do away with an unpredictable tax break that fluctuates based on federal tax laws and simplify the state’s business tax structure. Opponents said it could raise business taxes.

STATE SAVINGS ACCOUNT

One of the most complex amendment proposals on the ballot, Amendment No. 5, would create a new trust fund to help Louisiana cope with the wide fluctuations of oil prices and corporate tax collections, in an attempt to give the state more budget stability.

If approved, state dollars from corporate tax collections above $600 million annually and a slice of oil and gas revenue above $660 million each year would be socked away in a new Revenue Stabilization Trust Fund.

Once the fund reaches $5 billion, up to 10 percent could be spent on construction projects and roadwork, but not ongoing government services and programs. Another portion of oil and gas money would pay down state retirement debt.

It’s unclear when Louisiana would reach the benchmarks that would force money into the trust fund or debt payments.

OTHER AMENDMENTS

Top of the list, Amendment No. 1 would enact residency, education and experience qualifications for new registrars of voters.

Amendment No. 4 would exempt the surviving spouses of military personnel, police officers or firefighters killed in the line of duty from having to pay local property taxes on their homes.

The final proposal, Amendment No. 6, would make it easier for lawmakers to tap into protected funds when the state faces financial troubles.

More detailed, nonpartisan information on the amendments, including arguments for and against each proposal, is available in a guide issued by the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana at https://parlouisiana.org/ .

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Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at https://twitter.com/melindadeslatte


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