Amendment 1 tax proposition bad for Iberville, Ourso warns

Staff Report

A proposed state constitutional amendment that would create a centralized division for collection and distribution of local and parish sales and use taxes would be detrimental to the parish and its municipalities if voters approve the measure Saturday, according to Iberville Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso.

Ourso said he cannot trust a state agency will accurately determine and collect the amount owed to those municipal and parish governments, nor does he believe the revenue would be distributed in a timely manner.

He estimates that Iberville could lose 15 percent to 20 percent of its sales if the proposal passes.

Iberville Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso

“This is going to be a bad, bad deal if this passes,” he said.  “You’re going to take that authority away from the locals and depend on the state to collect that money for you? This could be bad with the loss of revenue you would have collected because they have a lackadaisical attitude in some of these state departments – not all of them – to do their jobs. Create something else.

“I don’t need the state telling me what’s good for the parish,” Ourso said. “They need to be doing a lot of checking on their own selves, and that’s why I strongly urge people to think about leaving it to the locals to collect their own sales taxes.”

Towns, fire departments, parish departments and – most of all – the School Board rely on the budgeted amount of sales tax revenue to operate, and they need to receive it on a timely basis, he said

In that respect, Ourso said it’s best to leave well enough alone.

“Ask any of the six mayors if they’re happy with the parish’s collections, and then having to depend on the state and collect this for us and make them pay what they owe,” he said. “I have a hard enough time making them fix a pothole in the road much less having them fix a pothole in the road much less having them collect taxes for you.”

Approval of the proposal would strike down a constitutional amendment voters approved as part of a measure proposed by constitutional delegates – including the parish president’s father, then-Sheriff  Jessel M. Ourso, whom Gov Edwin Edwards tapped to serve as on the constitutional convention.

As part of that amendment, which took effect Jan. 1, 1975, local governments were given the right to set their own taxes.

Iberville Parish Government collects its own sales taxes for the entities here, for the school board, the six municipalities, solid waste and fire taxes, among other entities.

“I don’t like them playing with the constitution, and I think we’re more than qualified and able and we’ve done a good job collecting our local sales taxes here,” Ourso said. “In this amendment, more than anything, they’re telling you to vote for the amendment, but they’re not telling you about the devil in the details of how they’re going to everything and then they’re going to set the rules.”

The out-of-state businesses – bricks-and-mortar and online – have jockeyed hard for the amendment, which would relieve them from having to file separate sales tax reports for each parish where they operate.

“It’s not our industry … we all have a good working relationship with them,” he said. “I hope the people realize how important this is.”

Ourso said he opposed every previous attempt to centralize sales tax collection and strip the authority from local governments.

State Rep. Chad Brown, D-Plaquemine and state Rep. Jeremy LaCombe, D-Fordoche, were among lawmakers who opposed the proposition spearheaded by House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales.

“I appreciated what Brown and LaCombe did when they stood up and said it should be left to the locals,” Ourso said. “And Schexnayder took away a project in Jeremy’s district and he did that with Chad … it’s just sad.”

Ourso said in all audits conducted by the parish’s independent contractual auditors, they have never run across a state government auditor who consulted local taxing authorities.

He doubts the state will take a diligent approach toward audits to ensure big businesses – namely “big box” stores and other chains” – pay their fair share.

“It shows me that I don’t think they can functionally do this, and that we will be short-changed and the state won’t be aggressive to make sure people pay these sales taxes … and that’s Iberville’s lifeline,” Ourso said.  These six municipalities depend on what we collect here because they don’t have any other money coming in … most of them, the small ones like Maringouin, Rosedale, Grosse Tete, White Castle. Plaquemine has other revenues -- but think about the loss.”

Ourso also doubts an agency that would collect and distribute sales tax revenue for all 64 parishes would run as efficiently as the local entities.

“These sales tax propositions clearly spell out we have so many days to distribute the money,” he said. “If we collect $6 million one month, these sales tax propositions clearly spell out that once we collect the money, we only have so many days to distribute it.”

He was also critical about the lack of detail in the proposal on the ballot.

“After it passes, they’ll do what they want to do and decide how they’ll set it up … that’s not alright, I hope people realize it and open their eyes.

I have a hard time thinking about how we would let somebody collect sales tax for Iberville Parish when they were paying unemployment benefits during the pandemic to inmates and dead people? And we’re going to let them collect our taxes? We can’t let then take the blood from us that makes this parish go.”