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Audit turns spotlight on tax assessments
LA Politics notebook by Jeremy Alford and John Maginnis
Special to the Herald-Guide -   Jul 18, 2013

An investigation conducted by the Louisiana Legislative Auditorís Office not only poses questions about the state Tax Commissionís practices, but also its politics.

The audit found that the commission routinely approves changes to homeowners’ property tax bills that are proposed by parish tax assessors — of the 8,884 adjustments presented in February and March, 99 percent were accepted. It further suggests there’s evidence that the commission isn’t properly vetting the recommendations.

Lawmakers and special interest groups complain that the five-member commission, appointed by Gov. Bobby Jindal, is stacked with members who are more sympathetic to assessors than taxpayers and business and industry. They contend it’s an undoing of the balance that was implemented under former Gov. Kathleen Blanco and is directly related to the very early support Jindal received from the Louisiana Assessors’ Association when he ran for governor in 2007.

"You got the fox watching the henhouse. Maybe that’s why all of this happening," said state Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton. "It’s a very political group. Do they need more manpower? I don’t know. But this is a group that has been loaded down with battles over the past few years."

Using studies that showed no value changes from one assessment period to another and assessment values that far outstrip fair market values in certain cases, the audit accuses the commission of not ensuring that parish assessors are reappraising properties every four years as dictated by the constitution.

In a written response, Tax Commission Chairman Pete Peters said the audit was "performed with a lack of understanding of the appropriate legal and factual background, or, even worse, with a predisposed intent to find fault where none exists."

House delegation raises $2.2 million

Louisiana’s House delegation on the Hill raised more than $2.2 million during the second quarter, according to reports filed this week with the Federal Election Commission. More to the point, it should come as little surprise that half of that sum, $1.1 million, was collected by Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, who now has $3.2 million in the bank for his 2014 bid against Sen. Mary Landrieu, a New Orleans Democrat.

Otherwise, the second quarter leader among House incumbents was Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, who raised nearly $354,000, bringing his cash on hand to $331,000. The others stack up as follows:

— Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Metairie; $276,000 raised; $766,00 in the bank

— Rep. John Fleming, R-Minden; $200,000 raised; $715,000 in the bank

— Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans; $190,000 raised; $236,000 in the bank

— Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman; $137,000 raised; $223,000 in the bank

Federal flood hikes up for vote

A renewed bid in Congress to delay steep increases in federal flood insurance for Louisiana homeowners is set for a Thursday vote, with the state’s whole delegation pressing for its approval. Leading the bipartisan charge are Sen. Mary Landrieu of New Orleans and Rep. Bill Cassidy, who are opposing each other in next year’s Senate election.

The Senate Homeland Security Committee is set to vote Thursday on a funding bill that contains language crafted by Cassidy ordering the Federal Emergency Management Agency to delay for one year higher premium rates for the National Flood Insurance Program.

Parish officials in south Louisiana have warned that changing the rates will cost some residents up to $20,000 more and make it unaffordable for people to stay in their homes.

Landrieu was unable to get her amendment for a three-year delay amended into the Senate’s farm bill, but has included the language from Cassidy’s amendment in the Department of Homeland Security’s appropriations bill, which she is handling.

Judicial candidate collecting cash statewide

District 2 of the state Supreme Court covers only 11 northwestern parishes, but since the impact of each of the seven justices extends statewide, attorneys and business interests from across Louisiana already are getting involved in next year’s Shreveport-based election.

District Judge Scott Crichton of Shreveport, who is challenging Justice Jeff Victory, has held recent fundraisers in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Alexandria. Also, Lafayette attorney Glenn Armentor hosted and meet-and-greet for Chrichton at the state bar association conference in Destin earlier this year.

Crichton jumped into the race late in 2012 when Victory delayed declaring his intention to seek re-election, which prompted speculation he would retire. Though the constitution bans judges age 70 or over from running, Victory, who turns 68 next year, could serve the full 10 years if he wins a third term.

Judging from the host committee, the Baton Rouge event was well represented but not confined to the trial bar. "My only requirement was just to make sure it’s a diverse group," said Crichton, who switched from Democrat to Republican last year. Victory, considered the most conservative member of the court, will be strongly supported by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry and attorneys with footholds in the sector.

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