Louisiana voters on Oct. 12 will consider approving a state constitutional amendment that would expand the jurisdiction of the Board of Tax Appeals to constitutional questions.
Taxpayers can appeal decisions by the state Department of Revenue or local tax collectors to the three-member board, which is appointed by the governor. It does not handle property tax disputes, which fall under the purview of the Louisiana Tax Commission.
The board cannot declare tax statutes or tax collector actions to be unconstitutional. If there is a constitutional question, the case must be transferred to a district court.
Baton Rouge tax attorney Jason DeCuir said constitutional issues, such as a question of due process, often come up in Board of Tax Appeals cases. When that happens, the taxpayer has to start another lawsuit in district court just to resolve the constitutional question, then go back to the board to decide the tax issue, he said.
If Amendment 3 is approved by voters, taxpayers could have their dispute handled in a single forum even when constitutional questions arise. District court still would be an option, DeCuir notes.
“If the taxpayer or the collector decide they want to go hear it in district court, they still have that right,” he said.
As it does every year, the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana compiled a summary of the proposed amendments and the arguments for and against, without taking sides.
On the “for” side, PAR says taxpayers should be able to seek timely redress for cases involving constitutional issues, so allowing the board to hear arguments regarding the constitutionality of tax and fee collections makes sense. It would place Louisiana in the mainstream of other states that have reformed their tax dispute process and make the system more efficient.
As for the argument against, PAR points to the historic precedent that only courts decide constitutional issues. The unelected members of the tax board might be influenced by the governor that appoints them or the senators that confirm them. Also, there is no evidence the current system fails to correctly address the issues, and constitutional issues decided by the board likely would be appealed to the courts anyway.
For a proposed constitutional amendment to get on the ballot, it must first garner support from at least two-thirds of the members of each body of the state legislature. Lawmakers approved Amendment 3 with only two dissenting votes.
Once an amendment is on the ballot, it takes a majority of voters to ratify it and add it to the state constitution.