Senior citizens bill sidelined

Questions about how many senior citizens are losing their homes to back taxes stalled legislation Monday aimed at helping them.

Senate Bill 104 is a constitutional amendment that would allow homeowners 65 and older to stop paying their property taxes if they are in financial difficulties. The taxes, including interest, would come due at death.

The legislation would apply to homeowners with annual household incomes that do not exceed 250 percent of the current federal poverty guidelines, or a little less than $40,000 a year for a family of two.

The proposal’s sponsor, state Sen. A.G. Crowe, R-Slidell, said his goal is to take pressure off senior citizens.

SB104 ran into problems during its first legislative airing at a meeting of the state Senate Committee on Revenue and Fiscal Affairs.

State Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, teasingly chided Crowe for characterizing someone who is 65 as a senior citizen. Adley turned 65 last year.

Then Adley turned to his true concern.

He praised Crowe for proposing an interesting concept and asked how many homes are being seized for nonpayment of taxes.

“I can do some research,” Crowe said, estimating it would take him 24 hours to produce the information.

Adley said he wanted data before voting on the bill.

Other objections also were raised.

West Baton Rouge Parish Assessor Barney M. “Frog” Altazan said the bill would be a financial hardship for local governments.

Parishes would lose income through diminished tax revenue and the expense of installing software to track nonpaying homeowners’ post-death tax tallies, Altazan said.

“We as assessors can’t forego collection of taxes,” Altazan told the committee.

The executive director of the Louisiana Sheriff’s Association, Mike Ranatza, said he wanted to see how many people would be affected by the bill.

Ranatza said he liked the bill’s concept but would prefer more work be done on it.

Also before legislators was an analysis by the Legislative Fiscal Office offering anecdotal opinions on the bill’s effect.

The Lafayette Parish Assessor’s Office, for example, estimated the bill might allow 2,150 taxpayers to defer their taxes.

With the 2013 legislative session drawing to a close, Crowe fought to send Senate Bill 104 to the Senate floor. He promised to work out concerns before trying to move the proposal to the House.

He told the committee that there are senior citizens who are losing their homes because they cannot pay their property taxes.

“I like to refer to them as the silent sufferers,” Crowe said.

Texas already has a similar law on the books, he said.

Adley urged for a delay in the bill’s progression.

“Good bills sometimes take more than one try,” he told Crowe.

Crowe bowed to the momentum working against him and agreed to voluntarily defer the bill.