BRAC on ballot measures: ‘No’ to Council on Aging; ‘Yes’ to tuition autonomy for higher ed

Business Report

The Baton Rouge Area Chamber today endorsed three ballot measures to be considered by East Baton Rouge Parish voters in the upcoming election, and it is urging voters to reject a new tax that would send more money to the parish Council on Aging.

Voters in EBR will be asked to consider six amendments to the state constitution and five parish propositions on Nov. 8. Early voting begins tomorrow and runs through Nov. 1.

The parish Council on Aging distributes medical equipment, helps with Medicaid applications and does in-home assessments for the elderly, among other things. The measure on the ballot asks voters in East Baton Rouge Parish to decide whether to levy a new property tax, sending the revenue to the council.

BRAC says in a statement the new 10-year, 2.25-mill property tax, which would bring an additional $7.9 million each year to the council, would more than double the agency’s revenue from 2015. BRAC notes the Legislature already designated nearly half of the new tax on rental cars in the parish to the council, and says the agency is not well-run.

The chamber supports renewing a 3.96-mill property tax dedicated to BREC that would raise $15 million per year for the parish’s parks and recreation agency. The amount raised would make up about half of BREC’s budget, and the chamber voiced its support for quality of place initiatives that “attract and retain a talented workforce.”

A constitutional amendment passed by the Legislature that would grant higher education boards the authority to raise their own tuition rates gained favor from BRAC. Amendment No. 2 would shift the ability to raise tuition rates from the Legislature, where it currently resides, to the higher education governing boards.

Louisiana is one of the only states that allows the Legislature to set tuition rates, and higher ed leaders have argued that they need the ability to control tuition rates to offset drastic cuts in state funding in recent years. Opponents of the amendment are wary of schools raising their rates and pricing in-state and low-income students out of colleges.

The only other constitutional amendment BRAC weighed in on is Amendment No. 6, which would make it easier for the Legislature to tap into protected, or dedicated, funds. The amendment, to which BRAC urges voters to say “yes,” would change the threshold that must be met in order to access funding protected by law when the state has a budget deficit.

BRAC says higher education and health care have taken too much of the burden of budget cuts, and allowing more flexibility would allow for a more stable budget. However, BRAC says a complete overhaul of protected funds eventually will be needed.

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