Voters will accept or reject three proposed constitutional amendments, including one that is as close to a sure thing as can be prior to the vote, in Saturday’s primary election. 

Since the current constitution was approved in 1974 following the Constitutional Convention of 1973, it has been amended 186 times. By comparison, the U.S. Constitution has been amended 17 times since 1791.

About half of those state amendments deal with the constitutional provisions regarding the budget, taxes and related fiscal matters, according to the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana (PAR), which prepares a nonpartisan analysis of proposed amendments from year to year.

The three on Saturday’s ballot fall in that financial category.

Amendment No. 1 would establish a property tax exemption for construction work in progress.

Currently, during the building phase for new or expanded manufacturing plants, businesses or residential buildings, the improvements are called “Construction Work in Progress” and there is no constitutional provision regarding their taxing.

Some assessors interpret the Tax Commission’s “assessments shall be made on the basis of the condition of things” to mean if the work isn’t finished, the project is not added to the tax roll. Others have read it another way, assessing at least some portion for some large projects based on how close to completion they are, according to PAR.

Since the great portion of private sector construction is completed with a year or so, CWIP is not taxed for most projects in the state. But large projects taking years to complete, such as the gas facilities in Cameron and Calctsieu Parishes, led local government, industry and others to seek a more permanent and acceptable method of assessment.

Amendment No. 1 would prohibit property taxes levied against construction work until a project is completed (when it “can be used or occupied for its intended purpose”). PAR notes it is most likely that if the amendment fails to pass, the taxation issue could become a question for the courts to decide.

Amendment No. 2 had no opposition when it passed the Legislature and is expected to receive an overwhelming majority “yes” vote Saturday.

The amendment would exempt surviving spouses of first responders who died while on duty from property taxes on the home of the deceased, closing a hole in the law and amendment approved last year by adding emergency medical responders, technicians, paramedics and volunteer firefighters.

Amendment No. 3 would establish a “construction subfund” within the State Transportation Trust Fund to contain any new fuel tax revenue, which could not be used for state employe benefits or wages.

As it now stands, the Trust Fund gets all revenue from fuel taxes, including any new fuel taxes. In addition to financing construction and maintenance of state roads, bridges, flood control, ports, airports, transit as well as the Parish Transportation Fund, a portion is used to pay salaries and benefits for Department of Transportation and Development employees whose work is directly related to highway or other program funded by the Trust Fund.

The amendment was originally paired in this year’s legislative session with a bill to increase the gasoline tax. That bill failed.

PAR notes that this amendment does not create revenue for the backlog of major infrastructure projects, but paves the way for future efforts to put more dollars into them. it also points out that should any new fuel tax revenue be approved in the future, the Legislature and administration can still move money around in the budget, and that the amendment does nothing to restrict use of Trust Fund dollars for non-construction spending.