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OneRouge Community Check-In - Week 180

Some numbers to keep in mind. 36. 4. 1. 36: In October 36% of Louisiana residents showed up to cast a vote in the Gubernatorial primary...well, it could have been a primary. "Records show that AG Jeff Landry won the governor's office with 547,827 votes. Louisiana has 2,970,167 registered voters - meaning that Landry was elected by getting 18 percent of the votes cast." What is certain is that it was the lowest turn out in decades. But even with the Governor's race decided still there are things and people on the ballot. And in case you are playing long at home, this is what it meant by "down ballot" issues. 4: There were 4 constitutional amendments on the ballot. All 4 passed. There will be 4 more this month. These 4 runoff seats need to be filled

1: OneRouge was joined this Friday by our resident Election Educators... Alfreda Tillman Bester - Special Counsel for Human Services | Southern University Law Center

Jan Moller - Executive Director | Louisiana Budget Project

Also, early voting is Friday, November 3 through Saturday, November 11 (excluding Sunday, November 5, and Veterans Day on November 10) from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Enlight, Unite, & Ignite!



​​Pepper Roussel: Y'all know how much I love y'all spending part of your Friday morning with me. I particularly love the days that we start off with our resident election educators. And so I wanted to make sure that we had enough time. So it feels like every time we have these discussions that I don't leave you enough time to wrangle, harass, educate random folk at the checkout.

Days get longer, start on Sunday or shorter because the nights get longer? I know that when it gets dark at four o'clock to have these conversations about folk or excuse me with folk about what's going on, right? We won't spend or I am not going to focus on the fact 36% of people who showed up to vote.

Although it looks like from that tilt of the head from Alfreda Tillman Bester… What I will say is that it's more than just the gubernatorial election, right? So from what I understand since the secretary of state record back to 1999, this was the lowest turnout that we have had, including the year that Jindal was up for reelection, which says so many things.

The important thing is that we know and understand what is on the actual ballot. So there are constitutional amendments. There are at least four, including the secretary of state seats that are up for grabs. And there, there are generally just some things that we need to know y'all. I am going to step aside and we'll go with ladies first.

I think maybe since she's already off mute. Alfreda Tillman Bester, please let us know what we need to know. Good morning, everybody.

Alfreda Tillman Bester: For those of you who have not had the pleasure of meeting, I'm Alfreda Tillman Vestor, and I currently serve as special counsel for human services at Southern University Law Center and host of Perspectives on WTQT 106.1 FM here in Baton Rouge. Prior to becoming special counsel at Southern University Law Center, I served for 12 years as general counsel for the Louisiana State Conference of the NAACP. And I previously served as chair of the sponsoring committee for an urban league chapter here in Baton Rouge.

So there was an election. On Saturday, October 14th, 2023 and Pepper was being very generous when she said 36% of the people showed up because actually it was only 35.8%, which means that 64.2% of our registered voters decided to stay home and just let the chips fall where they may.. And I hate to say it this way, but this is how it feels to me. So I'm going to say it. It means that only 35.8% of the registered voters in Louisiana cared enough about the future of this state to take 10 minutes in the scope of eight available days, eight available days, including early voting to just show up and make their voices heard.

Many of our citizens are going to regret that irresponsible and fateful decision. And for those of us who have warned you for the last year about how crucial this election was, I'm going to be the one who says, I don't want to hear from, hear any complaints, um, for the next four years. And trust me, you're going to have some complaints.

This is just a reminder that elections matter. But for those who fail to show up on October 14th, you have another opportunity to at least partially redeem yourselves. For the rest of us, we still have work to do. It's not done yet. There's a general election that's scheduled for November 18th for the runoffs, as Pepper was saying, for Secretary of State.

Attorney Gwen Collins Greenup is competing with the current Secretary of State's first assistant Nancy Landry. Financial Planner Dustin Granger is competing with former Congressman and Trump Administration official John Fleming for the treasurer. And Attorney General, I'm sorry, Attorney Lindsey Cheek is competing with the current Staff member of the current Attorney General Liz Murrell for the Attorney General's position.

The general election, like I said, is a runoff for the Attorney General and Secretary of State. And there are also some legislative seats that are being contested on that day. And we have four constitutional amendments that Jan and I are going to talk to you about. about a little bit later. Early voting starts today.

It's your first opportunity until 6 p.m. today. You can have an opportunity to go out and vote. It's going to be beautiful weather. You get to choose your weather and choose your day. It starts on Friday this time because there's a Veterans Day holiday, but it will run through November the 11th, seven days.

Plus election day to go out and make your voices heard. There's a November 14th deadline to request a mail ballot from the registrar. And then November 17th is the deadline to register. I'm sorry, for the registrar to receive your mail-in ballots. I would end Pepper by encouraging every registered voter.

To go out and vote and take someone with you and do it during early voting. We heard of whole of precinct changes that threw some people off and they just decided it wasn't worth it. So we need people to go vote during early voting. So if there are any issues, you can resolve those during early voting.

And I'll stop there and we'll talk more about the Constitutional Amendment. And I'll be happy to address any questions that anyone has for me.

Pepper Roussel: Thank you, ma'am. That is a perfect segue. Jan Moller, if you wouldn't mind letting us know what we need to know. But the first thing is who is responsible for this moving of precincts?

That, and don't they have to tell people? Cause I could swear that... See, there's a reason I didn't ask you. I could swear. That somebody should be telling the people where they can go vote. Dr. Bester, I don't know if you know the answer to this.

Jan Moller: I was one of those precincts that changed. And I think I got a little postcard in the mail letting me know.

And they made it, slightly less convenient for me. It used to be across the street. Now I gotta go a few blocks, but, I think that was the Secretary of State, if not the local registrar, but I'm not sure. It's the Secretary of State sends out that little piece of paper, that little card, that shows you the precincts.

It has all of the offices that, all of the representatives for your area. They send it out and sometimes people don't see it. They're confused because they show up someplace that I don't even know where my precinct is anymore. I always vote during early voting. So I have to deal with that nonsense.

On to constitutional amendments. All right. Good morning, everybody. I'm Jan Moller with the Louisiana Budget Project. And I put in the chat a link to the guide that we published yesterday to the four constitutional amendments that are on the ballot. And that's your cheat sheet for what I'm going to talk about.

And I'll try to get through these quickly. I put them in sort of two categories. There's the first two amendments. And I say this politely and with love, will have absolutely no effect on any person in Louisiana whatsoever. That doesn't mean they're bad amendments, but it means they're clean-up amendments.

Amendment 1) I'm not going to read it, what the actual ballot language says, but it has to do with the timing of gubernatorial veto sessions. And veto override sessions, and this is something that came up in 2022, basically, the Constitution says that 40 days after the end of a session there's an automatic veto override session. 99% of the time these things get canceled. The legislators can cancel them by just mailing in a ballot saying they don't wanna hold it. Because usually they don't override vetoes. But in 2022, they came up with a problem where they met for a special session to do the redistricting for Congress and the legislature.

That special session ended and the regular session started. And then when the 40th day came up for the override, they were already in session. And the lawyers didn't really know what to do. And they couldn't agree on how to deal with it. So what they ended up doing was adjourning the regular session for one day holding a special veto override session so that they could override the governor's veto and then they came back into regular session. What this essentially does is allows them to hold that veto override without going through those motions so that they can just override a bill from a previous session.

If they are already in a regular session and so this is probably something that's unlikely to happen again anytime soon. And again, unless you're a member of the legislature it's going to have no practical effect, but probably a good idea to, to clarify that. Because it's one of those things they didn't think about when they wrote the Constitution in 1974.

I don't think they imagined the redistricting battles that were going to come up in, in 2022. Amendment two is another one. This one actually was instigated by our friends at the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana.

Alfreda Tillman Bester: Jan, before you go to number two, let me just say one little caveat on that, on number one.

One of the things that concerns me about that is the level of disruption that could occur if you have divided government where you have, either a Republican governor and a Democratic legislature. We could be playing that game, the whole legislative session, if there's not some good cleanup language about the process itself.

I agree with Jan that it's benign in terms of the everyday experiences of the citizens, but it will impact us if we have more paralysis at our legislature as a result.

Jan Moller: Yeah. No that's a really good point and again there was a lot of confusion. When this problem came up in 2022, they actually passed this cleanup language in 2022, but they didn't want to put it on the ballot last year because they wanted this to be something that took effect if it passes with a new administration.

So they did that as a courtesy to Governor Edwards. And again, here it is on the ballot number two. It deals with some funds that have been created over the years. When the Constitution was adopted in 1974, it was a fairly clean and concise document. And since then, it's been amended over 200 times.

You can't go vote in Louisiana in the fall without having, four or more amendments. And sometimes these amendments create various special funds. There are six funds in this amendment that are delineated that exist in the Constitution that either have zero money, most of them have no money in them whatsoever, they haven't been used for decades.

One of them has, I think, $604.95. But anyway, these are funds that nobody except PAR had even thought about or given a moment's thought about for years, if not decades. And this amendment just takes them out of the Constitution. So it's clean-up language. It's one of the very few amendments, maybe the only one you'll ever vote on that makes the Constitution smaller rather than bigger.

In that sense, it's a good legislation. Again, the folks at PAR they did a long... Report a few years back looking at the constitution and making some recommendations for reform. There's periodically there's talk about a constitutional convention and they wanted to talk about that.

And so again, this is just clean-up language and it's going to have no practical effect on anybody, but it will make our constitution a little smaller. Amendments three and four actually have some substance to it.

Amendment 3) deals with property tax exemptions for first responders.

It doesn't grant those automatically, it actually gives local authorities the right to grant property tax exemption of $2,500. This came out of the New Orleans legislative delegation, and it was, I think, a very sincere and well-meaning response to the problems that they're having in that city recruiting and retaining police officers because the cost of living in New Orleans has gone up quite a bit if you follow the news down there home prices have risen quite a bit a lot of Airbnbs and gentrification happening.

That's driven up the cost of housing, and of course, property insurance is in crisis, so there's the cost of insuring a home in New Orleans has gone way up, and the legislature doesn't have a lot that it can do to increase police or firefighter pay in New Orleans, so they came up with the idea of let's see if we can make it a little cheaper for them by lowering their property taxes.

There are a few problems with this, frankly, in our estimation. One of them, of course, is that when you do this, you have less money available in city government to provide basic services. Public schools, parks, libraries, all of the things that we pay for with property taxes. There will be a little bit of less of that available.

We also don't know. It's not going to apply to everybody because it would only apply to people who buy homes in New Orleans. So if you live in Jefferson Parish or somewhere else you wouldn't get this property tax. If you're a renter, you wouldn't get this property tax, of course. And and it also, leaves out a lot of other very important but low-paid occupations.

So I think you'd be very fair to say police and firefighters, that's great. But what about teachers? What about nurses? What about early childhood educators? What about all of the other public servants who do important jobs and have been priced out of areas that were once affordable?

This is a well-meaning amendment, but at least at the Budget Project, we don't tell anybody how to vote, but we certainly have some concerns about that.

And then Amendment 4 deals with...

Alfreda Tillman Bester: Jan, before you go to Amendment 4, let's talk a little bit more about Amendment 3.

Because I think that, and, I think it was a cop-out for the legislature to say that they didn't have the authority to change this for, to allow for a tax exemption. But they certainly had the opportunity and the ability to provide more money for salaries. They had that ability. They could have done that.

And if you want people to live in the city where they work, you need to pay them a living wage. And that's the conversation that should have been had as opposed to going into the coffers of cash-strapped local governments and telling them to do this for the people that they, that are really essential to their health and safety.

And that's actually the absolute best point about this amendment if you want police to be paid better or have better, then pay your police officers more, pay your firefighters more. Again, a lot of important occupations and people just don't make enough at those jobs to afford to live and there is a simple solution to that problem.

Jan Moller: So thank you. Appreciate that.

Amendment 4) deals with a relatively new phenomenon involving rainy-day funds. Louisiana, like every state has had a rainy-day fund for years. Whenever we run a surplus, a budget surplus or get one-time money, it goes into that savings account.

That's an important thing to have around. Because the state has to balance its budget every year. And so it's good to have a little savings account that you can tap in years when there's a budget shortfall or a deficit. When this governor came into office after his first year, that savings account was pretty close to empty.

It was about $260- 270 million dollars, but then in 2016, they created a second Rainy Day account. But The money in this second rainy day account comes from they wanted to get rid of the volatility, like the two most volatile revenue sources that the state has are corporate income tax collections, and severance and royalty. Oil and gas taxes tend to fluctuate wildly year by year. And so the state went and that can lead to some big swings in a big surplus one year, big shortfall the next. So they put a cap on that and they said anything above $600 or $650 million dollars a year in those revenue sources would go into this new rainy day fund.

Here we are like eight years later, there's two and a half billion dollars in that new rainy day account. The old rainy day account has gone up to almost a billion dollars, so we've gone from having about $250 million in the bank as a state, to now almost $300 and, $3.5 billion. So our reserves are in much better shape than they were when the last governor left office.

That's the good news. What this amendment does... Is it tries to put some restraints on how that money can be spent and makes it a little tougher than the current constitution allows to spend that money when there's a shortfall and frankly, in two years from now, we're probably going to be back at looking at budget shortfalls because we have some taxes that are falling off the books.

We have some taxes that are going out of the rainy day in the general fund. So we've got some tax cuts kicking in. We have the federal aid that's going away. Jeff Landry is going to have a, pretty, he'll be able to present a nice balanced budget in February, his first year in office, but his second year, it's going to get a lot tougher.

And there's going to be probably a desire to use some of those rainy-day funds. To keep the budget balanced. And that's a good thing. In our opinion, the legislature should have the flexibility to tap those accounts because the alternative sometimes is, of course, making cuts to, education, and social services things that we buy with our tax dollars, that support people and communities.

This amendment again just puts some new restrictions on the legislature's ability to spend that money. And, again, from our perspective, the legislature ought to have a little bit more flexibility to respond to financial emergencies. So that's, those last two amendments really are pretty substantive and they deal with the ability of state and local governments to cut taxes and to plug budget shortfalls.

And if you read their wording on the ballot, it's pretty clunky, but it's something I hope people, do their homework on and, look and see how you feel about this because I think there are good arguments on both sides.

Pepper Roussel: So talk to me. I don't think I understand this whole situation with, we didn't have a whole lot of money.

Now we've got billions of dollars just sitting around doing nothing. So the first thing I thought was, we have nothing we could be doing with that money? And then the second thing is, why are we making it harder to get to it? I don't understand. That well, the harder to get to it part, you'd have to ask some of the conservative legislators who wanted to pass this.

Jan Moller: I think it's good to have money in reserve. And so this second rainy day fund is not called. It's called the Revenue Stabilization Trust Fund. The idea is that once the balance gets to $5 billion, which it could get to that level in just a couple of years, then they can start spending 10% a year on transportation projects.

So this is designed to eventually be a source for road and bridge projects, which Louisiana desperately needs because The money in that goes to the Transportation Trust Fund that pays for roads and bridges. That is just simply not enough. We don't raise enough money. That's where our gas tax dollars right now go into the Transportation Trust Fund.

And our gas tax has not gone up since 1990. And the value of those gas tax dollars has... been cut by more than half because of inflation. And because cars are more fuel efficient, there's a lot more electric cars on the road, of course, so you just get a lot less gas tax revenue that goes for road and bridge repairs today than you used to, than you did even, 35 years ago almost.

And so that's why we have a huge backlog of highway projects. This new Fund is supposed to address that, but only once it gets to $5 billion. But then you're right. There's a lot of money that's sitting around and this fund. And the idea is that they want to make sure that, right now. They, if they get a 2/3 vote, they can use it for anything they want.

And, in my mind, they should have that flexibility because what if you have a natural disaster? What if you have some kind of emergency that needs to be addressed? The legislature should be doing that, should be allowed to do that. With this amendment, they would only be able to tap it after they've tapped the regular rainy day fund.

They couldn't take more than $250 million at a time. So it's not impossible to tap it, but it would be a little bit more difficult to use that fund to address a shortfall and avoid some cuts to the budget, if that makes sense.

Alfreda Tillman Bester: Pepper, I think that like Jan said, there are pros and cons to this.

It's in Louisiana. We have so many things that are protected that whenever we have a shortfall, education and healthcare suffer, right? Education and healthcare almost every time. And so having some restraint. Because we know what it's like to have people in control of our coffers that will drain it all.

And Chris had a really good point when he mentioned that when it looks like we have more money, then the first thing that we talk about is cutting taxes. But the sources of those dollars is usually one-time funds. Especially when we get dollars from a natural disaster, and rainy day is the appropriate name for it because we have so many natural disasters and in this state, we need to have some constraint, but it needs to be flexible enough that we're not cutting education and health care every time we have a shortfall.

Pepper Roussel: But that's something I also don't understand. We passed the or change the way that we address gambling and permitted gambling. That money was supposed to be going to education. People are gambling and y'all are telling me that I don't have money for education. I'm so it's the lottery money that goes to education.

Jan Moller: It's not the money from slot machines. And the riverboat casinos just go straight into the general fund. The lottery money goes into a constitutionally protected fund for education, but it's the old one too, because the money goes in and that frees up, that's less general fund money that goes in.

So it's it's not adding to the pot. It's just creating this protected pot, which allows them to take money that would have gone to education and spend it somewhere else.

Pepper Roussel: Y'all make my head hurt, so I am sure that this was not on the ballot when we started talking about do you want money from gambling to go to education?

Jan Moller: There was not all of this detail, so well, the thing is that there's a system of moving money in that's built into our legislative processes, Pepper, and the people at the legislature know how to tap into the money that's not protected. And that's what happens. So yeah, that's what happens.

It's the procedure. All I've heard is I don't know enough. So so so well, so the overall, and this may be a different call, but the state budget this year is about $46 billion when you account for all the state taxes, licenses, and fees, all the federal money, and all the self-generated revenue.

And the self-generated money, revenue, is money tuition and, entrance fees for parks, and fees that regulatory agencies charge to companies that they regulate. $46 billion dollars. About $12 billion of that is the state general fund. That's the part that, that's our taxes, essentially.

And only about three and a half billion dollars out of that general fund is what's considered discretionary. The rest of it is is, they don't have any discretion over. It's either protected by the Constitution. Or it's dedicated to a specific use. So you think about that, when you see a story about the budget and the paper and the budget cycle will start again in February.

And they're going to be talking, it'll probably be a little bigger this year. But when you see $46 billion it's really easy to think you can cut, a billion out of that. What's the big deal? But when you really think about what's discretionary and the discretionary dollars, almost all of that goes to either education health care, or social services and mostly higher education because the money that goes to K through 12 education is part of that protected pot.

That's the minimum foundation project program. That's in the constitution. I think it's a very good thing that the legislature can't, Doesn't have as much control over that because you do not want your legislature sitting there deciding how much goes to St. Tammany versus Orleans versus Shreveport.

You want that decided by a formula that's in the Constitution. But the money that's unprotected, that's discretionary, that's what pays for child welfare services. That's what pays for LSU and Southern Universities’ operating expenses. That's what pays for a large part of the Medicaid program, and that's why those programs are always the first ones to be cut when there's a budget shortfall because they don't have that many places to go…

Alfreda Tillman Bester: Which is very counterintuitive, especially when you're talking about services where there's a federal government match.

We use our state General funds to match to the federal dollars that are coming in at, for instance, let's just talk about Medicaid. We put 10 percent and Medicaid federal pays, gives us 90%. Where else are you going to get a 900% return on dollars, but those dollars are usually the first ones that are targeted to be taken away and…Okay, let me just go all the way back, Jan, is because they don't think that poor people vote because poor people don't vote.

And they're easy targets because they're only concerned about the people who are going to show up. And so that's why we have to really be encouraging to everyone, everyone to deliberative process. From voting to showing up at the Capitol, even if it means just sending an email about something that they're about to do.

Because the first thing I hear every time I go to the legislative session and there's a hot-button issue is someone on some committee saying, “I didn't hear from any of my constituents about this. I didn't hear from any of my constituents about that.” And they're right. They didn't hear from anybody because people are too busy trying to live.

And they're counting on their elected officials to protect their health, safety, and welfare. And honestly, they're not doing a really good job. So vote!

Pepper Roussel: All right, so speaking of votes help me understand if I vote yes, what does that do? If I vote no, what does that do for the constitutional amendments in particular?

Alfreda Tillman Bester: Okay. Jan you wanna start with that one? With one, I think he talked about it, but it may not have been clear about the delineation.

Jan Moller: If you vote yes on one then you allow the legislature to override a governor's veto without having to go into a regular in, without having to go into a special veto override session.

But only. If a situation comes up like 2022, when they had a special session there was a bill vetoed from that session, and then the override session comes up conflicts with the regular session. So again it's unless you are a state legislator, it's not something that is going to affect your life in any practical matter whatsoever.

But yeah, so that's number one. If you vote no on number one, then it's the status quo. And again, now that we have, we're going to be a triple red state on January 8th so I doubt there's going to be a whole lot of overriding override votes at least for the next four years if I had to guess.

But anyway it goes back to the same situation we had today, which would make it a little bit more cumbersome if they're ever in a situation like that. Number two, if you vote yes, then the Constitution is a little bit smaller. There are these, there are these funds that exist on paper only but don't actually have any money in them, they go off the books. But unless you are, a law student, writing a paper on the Constitution I don't think you're going to notice a difference. But it's not going to make any difference. If you vote no then, again status quo.

Alfreda Tillman Bester: Jan, Just for Pepper. I know, because I know as an attorney, it makes, we're talking about, and I'm excited about this possible amendment.Let me just say that, because it, the one that we're about, but this is 247 times that our constitution has been amended since 1974, when it was enacted. 247. Do you know how many times the U.S. Constitution has been amended since the 1700s? 27. That's it. Because what has happened in Louisiana is that our Constitution has become an extension of our revised statutes, which is not a good thing.

As lawyers, we have to know every year, what the law is every time it changes. We have to learn it and we have to learn how and it means more litigation and all of those things. But in this case, this one thing coming off. Yeah, it won't hurt, but if it doesn't help too much, y'all.

Jan Moller: Yeah. Number three, I think is possibly the most consequential. Because it's You know, it gives local governments the authority to pass these property tax exemptions for first responders and that could potentially again put some, make it a little less expensive to pay a mortgage if you're a first responder but it could also result in less revenue for municipalities that already have a hard time Funding a lot of the basic things that cities pay for, there's a lot of again, police paying police and firefighters is maybe the most fundamental job of local government and along with maintaining parks and libraries and sewers and municipal infrastructure.

And those things cost money, and if you grant tax exemptions, there's less money that comes in to pay for basic services. But again, that debate, but it really just pushes that debate to the local level. It doesn't say that they have to do it, it just allows them to have that debate, and it'll be interesting to see who takes advantage of that.

Alfreda Tillman Bester: What I wanted to hear that Jan said was, For people who have mortgages or people who are buying homes when we are recruiting news first responders, they're usually coming in at the entry-level, which means that they're more often renting. This is just feel-good legislation. That again. It could impact the bottom line of our local municipalities, but who would actually benefit from it?

It would be those people who are higher up in those different agencies who are first responders, but they may be the person who's making $150,000 a year. This is not something that really. Will it may work toward recruitment in some instances, but probably 10-15% of the first responders who are just coming in as new recruits would be able to take care of that.

And I'm being generous when I say 10-15% because they don't generally own homes. They're usually renting.

Jan Moller: To Manny's question in this, in the chat yes. Power Coalition does a great job. PAR I think, does an excellent job of breaking down the amendments. They do the pros and cons.

We're a little bit more biased. We have opinions, and so we don't tell you how to vote. But but I think we're not, we may lead you, hopefully, to provide some analysis. And I have not seen this on from The Current, I don't want to comment on that, but certainly, the power coalition and the PAR guide and also the Council for a Better Louisiana put out a guide every year as well.

So the good news is that if you look for it, there's some good analysis that you can find and I recommend you do your homework because, and I agree, it's also the fact that our constitution does get too cluttered with these amendments. And the thing that really gets me is that we don't have the power as citizens to put ballot questions to the voters.

So in many states around the country, you can, there's a referendum process where you can go out and gather signatures and get something on the ballot and go around the legislature. The only way a constitutional amendment gets on the ballot in Louisiana is by getting two-thirds vote in this House and Senate.

So the legislators are the only ones that can put a constitutional amendment on the ballot. In my opinion, I think it would be great if citizens had that ability. I think we'd have a minimum wage in Louisiana today. I think there'd be a lot of things that we could do as citizens if we didn't have to go through the legislature.

But that's a different soapbox.

Pepper Roussel: I do enjoy soapboxes. There is a question in the chat about is this only applicable to active first responders?

Jan Moller: So that's constitutional amendment of three. Yeah. I believe so. Yeah. But, I should add that the legislature loves providing property tax breaks.

For favored groups. So there are already probably at least half a dozen exemptions for groups that are very sympathetic, war widows and people with disabilities. And so there are a lot of protected classes that can get special property tax exemptions and breaks.

I can't rattle them all off the top of my head. But of course, one reason, we also have if you're a homeowner in Louisiana, you benefit from the homestead exemption. So the first $75,000 of the value of your primary residence is exempt from property tax is exempt from property taxes.

And the big picture here is, local governments can really only get revenue from property taxes. and sales taxes. They can get some from fees, but they cannot collect an income tax. They do in some states but Louisiana's Constitution prohibits it. In Louisiana, we are pretty much maxed out on sales tax.

We have the highest combined sales tax rate anywhere in the country. We charge a lot of sales tax, and most of that sales tax is at the local level. We are one of the lowest states in the country for property taxes. It varies from parish to parish, it obviously depends on home values, but on a per capita basis in Louisiana, we pay a lot less in property tax than people in most states.

And we keep looking for ways to erode that tax base. And of course, the property tax is a little bit more of a progressive tax because if you own a million-dollar home, you're paying a lot more. Then if you're in a $150,000 starter home and whereas the sales tax is considered more regressive, it falls hardest on people with low and moderate incomes.

Ultimately, you hear a lot of people at the legislature talk about, we need to devolve more power to local government. We need the government closest to the people. They need to be able to raise that revenue and frankly, the place where they have the most ability to do so is through property taxes.

I know nobody likes to pay property taxes or taxes of any kind, but that's where Louisiana is lower than its peers.

Pepper Roussel: I'm just mad that he said that a starter home is $150,000. So as we continue, what? Hey, listen. Starter houses used to not be that kind of money. If you're talking about like a thousand maxing out at 1,500 square feet, that's a lot of money.

For somebody who is making, what, $50,000 a year at best, it's a lot of money.

So beyond the constitutional amendments, there are, and I'm going to come back to them, so please don't get comfortable. We've got a treasurer. Yeah? Secretary of State. And then who else? What is special about these roles?

Like, why do we care? Why does it matter?

Alfreda Tillman Bester: You gotta care about the treasurer. Because that's the person who manages the few dollars that we have. And also manages the investments of those dollars. They had, they chair our bond commission. There's just that person has controls the purse strings of our state, right?

The attorney general is responsible for consumer protection. They're responsible for interpreting our, and then, and enforcing our laws. Go ahead. Pep, you had a question.

Pepper Roussel: Yes. Yes. I've got my finger up. I see it. Please. Excuse me. Are you telling? Are you telling me that our governor-elect was responsible for consumer protections?

Alfreda Tillman Bester: Yep. How much consumer protection you get or you don't get is going to depend on your Attorney General and how active that treasurer is in his consumer protection division.

Jan Moller: And I'll say, the Secretary of State is an important office. They run, if you register a business in Louisiana, you register with the Secretary of State. So they keep the commercial database. They also run the elections.

And you don't think about the Secretary of State until you have maybe an election denier or some conspiracy theorist in there. Luckily I don't think we have that this time, but that is one where you really want somebody who is not a rabid partisan but who is committed to running, free, open, and fair elections, maintaining the voter rolls, not purging anybody who's eligible to vote.

There's always those kind of conversations. So that is a critical, office that you don't appreciate it until you have somebody in there who's not doing a good job and there's been a huge battle going on just recently And I think that's one of the reasons that the current secretary of state decided not to run they're trying to get new voting machines.

We're overdue for new voting machines in Louisiana and there have, been huge fights over which company and and how to do that with integrity. Those are things that ultimately fall to the Secretary of State, so you want somebody strong in there. There are also a couple of interesting legislative seats in New Orleans, in the Baton Rouge region that merits paying attention to, depending on where you live.

There's there's, Belinda Davis against Dixon McMakin is one that is in a runoff that is going to be interesting. Barbara Freiberg is in a runoff against Steve Myers. Both of those seats are again, in the state house. And I think we'll go a long way towards determining whether there's a Republican supermajority.

And also, you how conservative this house is going to be. We know it's going to be a very conservative house. And, working with a conservative governor, obviously. But there's also, a chance to maybe put some brakes on that. Not totally, but again, there are legislative races still on the ballot.

And one other thing, too, about, I'll just add about the treasurer and Miss Alfreda. I talked about it. The bond commission is one of those really powerful bodies that doesn't get, a ton of attention, but any local subdivision that wants to build a road or a bridge or a park and wants to borrow money for that project has to go before the state bond commission and all of the state projects that get put into the capital outlay bill every year.

They have to go through the state bond commission and the treasurer chairs that bond commission and gets to set the agenda. So the treasurer has a lot of sway over what gets built and who gets to build stuff in Louisiana. And so again, it's a really powerful position that most people don't think about in their day-to-day lives.

Alfreda Tillman Bester: And if I could go back for just a second to the attorney general's office We've seen in this current attorney general a willingness to engage in cultural wars and web. So I would say, and I'm whether or not women have, can have a right to control their bodies is on this ballot, whether or not women get to live and survive a pregnancy is on this ballot.

And so we need to be aware of that and also let me just not leave out voting rights because the current, one of the candidates, Liz Merle, argued for the denial of the one majority African American seat on the Louisiana Supreme Court just recently. Thank God the Fifth Circuit said no, you guys haven't brought enough information, but voting rights are on the ballot.

Voting rights are on the ballot. Women's rights are on the ballot.

Pepper Roussel: I was just about to ask so that y'all can bring us home, right? These roles like Attorney General, where you're supposed to be essentially advocating for the people of Louisiana. Treasurer, where we are, where you're managing the money for the people of Louisiana.

Secretary of State, where you are ensuring that the people can have their businesses and they can get to vote. All of these roles sound relatively neutral. What difference does the political party make?

Alfreda Tillman Bester: I don't know that it's party, but as far as candidates and the position that candidates take, for instance, an attorney general who engages in a nationwide litigation to force women to carry a pregnancy that is a pregnancy that cannot survive, where the child cannot survive that's…I don't even have the right words.

Jan Moller: I'll give you an example. No, and that's, that is a great question because I think, in my opinion, the Secretary of State shouldn't be a partisan position. You just want somebody with integrity who's going to run your elections fair and register businesses and do that in a streamlined fashion.

The treasurer, for example, one of the things that has come up in recent years is, they manage the state's investments. And they hire the companies that manage the state's investments. And there's been a lot of, uh, conservative pushback in recent years against investing in, I think companies, with funds like they, they don't want anybody who invests in clean technology, for example or green businesses because they can see, they, they like oil and drilling and fossil fuels.

Which is, they consider there's been this whole pushback against, woke investment funds. If you take a lot of these investments off the table and you say we're only going to invest with companies and industries that, that meet our ideological threshold, then you may not be getting the best return on the state's investments.

When and we aren't interested on that money. It can actually affect the bottom line of the state when you let your politics... And your ideology affect how you make those investments. So again, it can be and it's, it hasn't always been like that where sort of ideology played into to the state's investment portfolio, but that's been one of the offices that has gotten politicized over the past decade where it wasn't politicized before.

Alfreda Tillman Bester: And, Pepper, you're right. It should be neutral. The Secretary of State's office should be neutral. The Treasurer's office should be neutral. The Attorney General should be enforcing the laws of the state, but should also be looking at laws to see if those laws pass constitutional muster, right? But back to the Treasurer's office.

I was the person in graduate school who messed up our finance class for everybody. Cause I was like, “Wait y'all know that doesn't make any sense at all.” But the good the thing is that you are, you should have a diverse portfolio. It shouldn't be based on ideology. It should be based on what the market is doing.

So if you're if one industry is about to become obsolete. You know that there's another industry that's going to come up, that's going to be the up-and-comer and that one is going to generate more return on investment. And so the treasurer should be looking at the market, not looking at the ideology of the company that is the person or the company that is the catalyst for whatever that business is.

Pepper Roussel: I'm always learning stuff on these Friday calls, y'all. All right. So there is a question that looks like it's something that we are going to have to talk about over coffee. And that is how is it that the constitution became more of a vehicle for revised statutes? Exactly, which is why I said we got to talk about that over coffee because I saw you settling in.

Alfreda Tillman Bester: Poker face, I'm sorry.

Pepper Roussel: Thank you Verna Bradley Jackson and Reverend Anderson for providing some additional information about the bond commission as well as treasurer. Do we have any other questions that we haven't asked? I know it's a Complex. It's a dense subject to talk about the elections. What do these, not only the roles, but the constitutional amendments, what do they all mean?

I want to make sure that as we leave today, that you'll have a clarity or even if it's more than what you had when you walked in of understanding around what it is that we are trying to make sure that you have what do you know? What do you not know? Aside from, yes, ma'am, anybody wants to talk more about the amendments, give me a call.

Ebony, go ahead. Hi, good morning, everyone.

Ebony Starks: Thanks, Pepper. Good to see you all. Love these conversations. I have a couple of personal comments, and then I wanted to make an announcement before I have to drop off. The first comment is in regards to our low property tax rate. I do think, I hear that a lot, and as a recent transplant here, it's true.

We do have one of the lowest property tax rates in the nation. However, home values here, particularly in the city limits are extremely inflated. So many people are paying in totality, much higher property taxes for much less public infrastructure than they would in other places. So I think it's relative, right?

It's about what is that? What is the true value of being a homeowner and of the property taxes that you're paying when you look at that rate? Because we have extremely, we have the goal to have it very high. very high sales prices. For, with roads that we can barely drive on. So I think that it's something to really keep in mind.

And then my second just personal comment is around something Dr. Bester said, which is really voting against our own interests. As a state, as a legislature, as a collective, when we know we have challenges retaining and attracting economic development and talent, and how often we let what we consider the values of our representative supposed to be representative elected officials really hinder the health of our state, the health of our population and our ability to have prosperity and to thrive.

So I just, those things really resonated with me. I just wanted to share those things before I had to jump off again, every time I see you two on the agenda. I'm here camera on because these are the type of conversations that we need to have. And the last thing I wanted to share just talking about how we catalyze change and how we empower people in communities.

I saw a lot of comments about organization and information and how do we really connect people to resources and education. So, the Wilson Foundation is facilitating a hiring process right now. For a founding executive director for a neighborhood nonprofit with a focus on the Mid City North area all the way from Northdale to kind of Melrose East and this person will work.

It needs to be dynamic, a change agent, and really have a heart for community transformation. And we'll work to really catalyze support and investment in these neighborhoods. So I'm going to drop the link with more information about that position into the chat. I am also going to add my email address in case anybody has any questions and they want to reach out to me personally. Thank you all so much. Sorry to take up so much time but happy to share space today.

Pepper Roussel: Thank you so much, Ebony. All right, so there is a question in the chat that might be a little too long for the time that we have left.

ATB, you and I will go to lunch, we'll bring P. Tuck so that we can get an answer to the earlier question.

But the question is for Jan specifically, do you have any advice for making an impact regarding the Palestinian genocide that's happening currently with Louisiana elected officials?

Jan Moller: I'm a little out of my depth on Middle East policy.

And I don't know if anybody changes their mind on that topic, but I would just say I would urge, getting in contact. And I would always say, do what you can to build a relationship with your elected officials. It's a little harder with federal elected officials because they have more constituents and they have more staff as layers between themselves and the public.

But it's always good to build those relationships before you have a specific ask so that they know who you are. And that they but most elected officials I think are usually receptive to hearing from their constituents, even if their constituents don't see eye to eye on that. But yeah, I wait.

I wish I had more clarity to offer. I'm as distressed as anybody by what's happening in the Middle East. And I would just urge anybody to get in touch because they need to hear from constituents.

Pepper Roussel: Thank you.

Alfreda Tillman Bester: If I may, Pepper, I would just urge that we would remember the humanity of all people.

Yeah. We don't take sides about what, precipitated the war or what, or any of those things. But what we know is that people are being killed. Babies are being killed on both sides. The humanity that we're, these are not just buildings that are being destroyed. These are human. being that are being killed and then after the war, after the bombing, they're left without water, they're left without food or electricity or access to care.

We need to remember the humanity of all people, regardless of what side of a war they're on because the civilians had nothing to do with the decision to start. A war.

Pepper Roussel: Agreed. Jan, do you recommend calling or writing being more effective or is it just both?

Jan Moller: I think both. I think again there's no substitute for building relationships with your elected officials before you have a huge issue that you wanna talk to them.

But they're there, they work for us. And we should never forget that, that's who they work for and they work for not just the people who voted for them and gave them money but for everybody who is their constituent. I'm assuming most people in this, on this call are either constituents of Representative Carter or Representative Graves.

And I think the House is probably where. A lot of these things and we're all constituents of Senators Cassidy and Kennedy. Again, my impression is that most people are in Washington are pretty dug in on Israel and Palestine and

But I think it's still just, and I want to echo what Ms. Alfreda said that this is just a human tradegy on both sides. And I think we can, no matter where you fall on this and it's difficult. I think it's, I think members need to hear, they need to hear from their constituents.

Pepper Roussel: Agreed. Agreed. All right. Yeah. Oh. Dauda?

Dauda Sausey: Yeah, thank you so much. Dr. Tillman and Jan Moller and I believe the conversation is definitely empowering and inspiring especially breaking down to the individual's power, elected offices, and the power they have to control each and every one of us. Anyway, we do things.

And sometimes we forgot that we are the ones that elected them and put them in offices. And either you vote or you don't vote. They got elected so we elected them because you made a choice not to vote. And the others that made the choice to vote, they put them there. So one thing is I just wanted to add, what can we do to mobilize and organize, especially the left-out community that are discouraged thinking that no matter what I do, it's not going to change anything.

And they forget to know that you have the power to change. Yes, because you have the power to change somebody that is closer to you, somebody that is closer to you, your friends, your family, the churches you go, you can build around that to get into that. And, but that is just my addition to that. In addition to the Palestinian and the Middle Eastern issue that is happening, as a former refugee, and this situation is really re traumatizing.

Regardless. The lack of human lives, the lack of respect of human lives is deeply bothering. And I mentioned as a former refugee, which I recently realized that a refugee camp was bombed and destroyed. Where you have a huge influx of individuals that's already fleeing and go to a camp where they should seek a little bit of safety.

And I'm being attacked there. So regardless of which part you are let's rally around humanity. And then we've seen the rise of Islamophobia as well. And I was in a call yesterday, a colleague of mine told me, he doesn't know that you children, which are 15 years old and 14 years old, what's the future will look like.

They're already being attacked. “Hey, you can go back to Palestine.” Even though they are not Palestinians, but because of their religion and it has been. So I believe as a community we have to come together on both sides of the heart. How can we heal and live in harmony regardless of what is happening because what is happening is political.

Alfreda Tillman Bester: Thank you so much. Thank you so much for bringing that. And for bringing a real face to this issue let me just say, I don't want to, I'm going to quote, or maybe misquote y'all, as an attorney, I know that we, that our elected officials derive their just powers from the consent of the governor.

They have no power that is not just. They have derived their just powers from the consent of the government. What does that mean for all of us and how does that empower us? Bishop Conway Knighton, who is a pastor here in Baton Rouge, will come on my show during election time. And he always says, Election Day is the only day in this nation where we are all equal.

One person. One vote. But here's the thing. If you don't vote, you don't count. Literally, nobody is counting you if you don't vote. So my, what I would say is to become involved in the deliberative process. voting is first, right? You have to vote. And if you're not, if you are one of those people that's excluded from voting, for instance, a formerly incarcerated person that has not gotten back their right to vote, then you encourage somebody else to vote.

But if you can vote, if you have the ability to vote and vote in every election and grab somebody else and take them with you to vote. Like your lives and our democracy depend on it because they literally do. They literally do. This is not at all being hyperbolic. Your lives and our democracy, the quality of your lives depend on your electing people who are truly committed to providing for the safety, health, and welfare of the citizens that they are supposed to represent.

Jan Moller: And I couldn't possibly say it better than Miss Alfreda. And I would just note that, it's simple math that the smaller the election is, the more your vote counts because it's a smaller denominator. If you think that legislative seat isn't that important because you're more interested in who's the president Your vote for president counts, but it doesn't count nearly as much as your vote for a state legislator or Mayor or city council member or school board member because there's just fewer people voting in that election and so we can be pretty sure that, Louisiana in 2024 is going to vote red and going to support the Republican nominee.

And you're joining, hundreds of millions of voters around the country in that election. Whereas in, when you're in a local election, again, you have, you have a lot more power, and especially if it's a low turnout election there was a, and I've brought this up before, but there was a vote, a judicial, a judge election that I voted in my wife and I on a Saturday went to vote it was one of those spring, April elections, it was a beautiful day, we went and voted, the person who won that election, who we voted for, won by two votes.

My wife and I literally decided that election. And again, if you go out to those little elections that, that people don't pay attention to, you do have power. And I don't know if that'll probably never happen again. But there is a judge who's here because we decided that, five o'clock on a beautiful Saturday in the spring that, “Hey, we forgot to vote.Let's go. Let's go do this.”

Alfreda Tillman Bester: Jan, I'm glad you made the point. I promise I'm going to stop here, but you have to vote up and down the ballot. You have to vote in every category. You can't. You can't stop at the governor. You can't stop at the, at the attorney general, you have to vote in every category or you're silent.

You're silent because people get elected if you don't vote, just like they get elected if you do vote. But the thing is, if you don't vote, people get elected who are the ones that you would least like to see. In that position, or you get a constitutional amendment that passes and it's on the books forever until we have another constitution or it's declared unconstitutional, which is in itself a whole thing.

Jan Moller: I am very sorry, but I actually have to jump off. In a minute here.

Pepper Roussel: So no worries. I'm good. Now that we are done, I was going to ask about community announcements. If anybody has anything that's going on this weekend in Baton Rouge.

All right, folks. Please. Oh, Reverend Anderson. Go ahead.

Rev. Anderson: Good morning. Absolutely. Wonderful conversation. And these two should have their own show and just go on the road. Can I just say that. A couple of things, One is Pets4Life is hosting a free vaccine clinic at the Delmont Center. I believe it is really important for those who have pets and maybe on fixed incomes and cannot afford to get those kinds of services for their pets.

Pets4Life is an extraordinary organization. Can't say enough about it. The other thing I wanted to bring up, and a lot of people may not be familiar with this organization. I am the chair of the Youth and Children Committee for the Louisiana Behavioral Advisory Council. That council is actually responsible for giving citizen input into the behavioral health plan for Louisiana.

And some of you may know, Louisiana is woefully underserved in its behavioral health services. And so these are millions of dollars of funds that come through the federal government, and the state decides how they're spent, and the state's broken into regions. And so on Monday at 9 o'clock at the Goodwood Library, The Louisiana Behavioral Health Advisory Council will have its quarterly meeting, its last quarterly meeting in 2023.

It is open to the public. I can't stress enough, if you have a loved one, or a concern, or you are a stakeholder in the behavioral health system here, you need to be at that meeting because that's where the updates are, that's where public comment is driven, and it is such a critical because we are getting millions of dollars in the state.

And unless we get input from the public, those dollars go to the same places they have always gone and we get the same results we have always got.

Pepper Roussel: All right. Thank you all so much. I appreciate those of you who have dropped some things in the chat. Seeing as how we are winding down, thank you ever so much for spending part of your Friday with me. You know how much I love you spending your Friday mornings with me. ATB, I'm serious about that coffee, man.

I drink coffee. I will be in town for another two weeks. For those of you who want to say hi, hang out, hey um, please let me know before I bounce. We'll have a special announcement coming up in a couple of weeks, particularly at the in-person coalition meetings, introducing y'all to some new folks.

And all of that said, have a great weekend. We'll see y'all back here next time. Yeah, next week, same time, same bat channel. Bye everybody. Bye y'all.


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