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Steps of the Louisiana State Capitol. Photo by Johnna Crider.

Fossil Fuels

Louisiana’s Amendment 5 Wants To Exempt Big Oil From Paying Property Taxes Forever While Making Taxpayers Foot The Bill

A new Louisiana State Constitutional Amendment could ensure that the oil and gas industry doesn’t have to pay property taxes ever again. The good news is that this is a state matter residents have control over — Louisiana voters can vote against it.

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A new Louisiana State Constitutional Amendment could ensure that the oil and gas industry doesn’t have to pay property taxes ever again. The good news is that this is a state matter residents have control over — Louisiana voters can vote against it.

Steps of the Louisiana State Capital. Photo by Johnna Crider.

Amendment 5 is also being described as a corporate welfare amendment and was created for a specific oil and gas company, Cameron LNG, which is an export facility. It is actually a foreign conglomeration with domestic partners. It’s mostly owned by Japanese corporations.

I spoke on the phone with Broderick Bagert of Together Louisiana, a coalition of church and community activists which is taking a stand against Amendment 5. Below is more of what I learned about this amendment.

Cameron LNG’s Lobbying Campaign

Bagert explained to me a bit of the background behind this amendment to the state’s constitution. Ten years ago, Cameron LNG was given tax exemption on a property worth $12–13 billion. Some reports say $12 billion while others say $13 billion. This ten-year tax exemption is expiring, and for the past few years, Cameron LNG has been trying to get this amendment to the state’s constitution onto voters’ ballot.

Right now, for Cameron LNG to be forever tax exempt would be against Louisiana’s state law. Of further note, the land that Cameron LNG uses is “the most valuable piece of property in the state of Louisiana,” Bagert told me. However, in 2019, Cameron LNG paid just $38,000 worth of taxes.

Bagert pointed out that the property is 99.98% tax exempt, and if Cameron LNG was paying its full taxes, the amount it would be paying is $220 million. Instead, those who own property in Cameron are having to pay higher taxes to make up the difference. And services and public infrastructure are not what they could be.

Just to show a comparison in the value, this land, worth $12–13 billion, is worth more than the new World Trade Center, which, according to Business Insider, cost $4 million.

Cameron LNG has invested a few million dollars into a lobbying campaign to change Louisiana’s constitution to allow the company to keep its property tax exemption indefinitely. A few million is clearly less than $220 million.

Bagert explained that Cameron Parish — yes, the same parish where Hurricane Laura made landfall and wiped towns off the map — has a pretty high property tax rate. Every single person — man, woman, and child — is paying for Cameron LNG’s tax exemption.

Edgar Cage of Together Louisiana shared his thoughts with The Advocate. “This gives another avenue for a manufacturer to get around paying ad valorem property tax.”

How Amendment 5 Made It Onto The Ballot, And The Intentionally Confusing Wording

Louisiana Republicans and Cameron LNG took advantage of the Covid-19 lockdown to push this legislation through. To make matters worse, they intentionally worded the question that would show up on the ballot to be confusing.

I have to be honest here, I felt pretty dumb while reading this ballot, which has the updated ballot wording. Now that I know that I was supposed to be confused, though, I don’t feel so dumb anymore. What I mean is that: if it wasn’t for the article in The Advocate detailing just how insane the wording that will appear on the November 3rd ballot is, then the average American would have probably voted yes. The wording, which in my opinion was engineered to intentionally confuse the average American voter, was originally this:

“Do you support an amendment to authorize a property tax exemption for property that is subject to an agreement with local government, as provided by law, allowing the property owner to make payments instead of paying property taxes and to require a two-thirds vote of the legislature to enact laws in this regard?”

The new wording, which is what I came across, is probably equally confusing:

“Do you support an amendment to authorize local governments to enter into cooperative endeavor ad valorem tax exemption agreements with new or expanding manufacturing establishments for payments in lieu of taxes?”

The average Louisiana voter is thinking about more important things in their lives than property taxes for companies, but they should at least get a comprehensible question that explains what the vote is about.

The Specifics of Amendment 5

As noted above, in a nutshell, Amendment 5 is an amendment to our state’s constitution that will allow Cameron LNG and other industrial oil companies to be exempt from paying property taxes — forever. It’s also carefully crafted so that if there is a change to the law applying to this amendment, it will be hard to be approved.

Ad Valorem Tax Exemption

The first part will give the oil and gas industry an exemption from any ad valorem property taxes for a certain property when the owner of that property enters into a cooperative endeavor agreement with a taxing authority to make payments to the taxing authority instead of paying property taxes.

The ad valorem property taxes that oil and gas companies will not have to pay are based on the value of a transaction or a property.

Also, this property will be eligible for further tax exemption for a new manufacturing establishment or an addition to an existing one. So, if I wanted to open up an oil well or add a new one (if I was an oil company), I could do this easily without paying property taxes on the property I am leasing.

Once this amendment is voted for and becomes a law, it will be pretty hard to undo. If there is a new bill or amendment relating to this exemption, it will require a two-thirds vote from the house legislature to go through.

There was hardly any information available on this amendment. If it wasn’t for General Honore, who pointed me in the right direction, I, a Louisiana voter, wouldn’t have known about this, nor would have done the research into this amendment.

Louisiana Republicans are taking advantage of the pandemic and our citizens. And many of our politicians do not have the citizens’ needs at heart. Wording this in such a confusing way, in my opinion, is malevolent. It shows that our politicians are counting on the fact that people will not understand what they are voting on and will probably vote yes and move on.

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