Louisiana voters reject tax swap

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 8, 2000

VIDALIA, La. – Louisiana voters on Tuesday defeated the &uot;Stelly Plan,&uot; a tax swap plan that would have raised $200 million a year for raises for teachers and school support employees.

&uot;We’re going to lose a lot of teachers over this, I&160;predict, and a lot of them are going to go across the river to Mississippi,&uot; said Vidalia teacher Kristen Nunn.

Wilma McKeever, Concordia Federation of Teachers president, said she will speak with Louisiana Federation of Teachers leaders today or Thursday. CFT members will then decide what their next step will be. Statewide, she said, &uot;I’m afraid we will have strikes or sickouts.&uot;

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The plan — named for its author, state Sen. Vic Stelly, R-Lake Charles — was actually made up of two proposed amendments, a. Both of the measures needed to pass with a simple majority of votes to take effect Jan. 1.

But some voters didn’t get the message. For example, in Concordia Parish, voters cast their ballots against Amendment 2, with 52.86 percent of voters voting against that proposal. Under that measure, Louisiana taxpayers would no longer be allowed to deduct federal income tax paid from their state income tax returns.

But 57.06 percent voted for Amendment 3, which would have eliminated the 4-cent sales tax on food and utilities. Therefore, the plan as a whole didn’t pass. &uot;People just didn’t understand that,&uot; said Concordia Parish Clerk of Court Clyde Ray Webber.

The swap would have generated $200 million a year for education, with at least 80 percent going to teacher and school support worker raises.

But Nunn said many teachers did not trust that the bulk of that money would actually go to raises.

&uot;Some said they weren’t comfortable with the wording of the amendments,&uot;&160;Nunn said. &uot;They weren’t convinced the money would go where (lawmakers) said it would go.&uot;

Voters also defeated a proposed constitutional amendment that would have formed a public-private partnership, Louisiana Inc., to replace the Department of Economic Development.

&uot;It would have given us more flexibility to help us compete for industries,&uot; said Chip Rogers, vice president of the Ferriday-based Macon Ridge Economic Development Region. &uot;But I&160;believe (Governor) Foster will still try to provide more flexibility in the future even though this didn’t pass.&uot;

Rogers believes that despite statewide publicity on the Louisiana Inc. amendment, voters were still confused by the language of the proposal.

&uot;So I’m not surprised (it didn’t pass),&uot; Rogers said. &uot;People are skeptical about constitutional amendments anyway.&uot;

Voters also defeated Amendment 4, which would have freed parishes and towns to use revenues dedicated to economic development to make grants or loans to attract new industries or expand existing ones.

But not all proposals on the ballot failed.

In Concordia Parish, voters renewed a 1.81-mill, 10-year property tax that brings in about $106,000 a year help pay utilities, maintenance and other operational costs for health units in Ferriday and Vidalia.

Those units provide services such as immunizations, child health screenings, prenatal care and food vouchers under the Women, Infants and Children program.