Property tax hike for N.O. clears hurdle

A New Orleans property tax hike cleared its second legislative hurdle Tuesday and headed to the Louisiana House floor for a vote.

The House Committee on Civil Law and Procedure quickly sent House Bill 111 on its way after making a few changes to the proposal.

The committee made the bill identical to legislation that died last year. Without any objection, it then sent it to the House floor.

The alterations include ensuring the millages “shall be used solely for police and fire protection service enhancements.”

HB111 is a proposed constitutional amendment to increase special ad valorem taxes in Orleans Parish. The rate for police protection would jump from 5 mills to 6 mills.

The separate rate for fire protection also would increase from 5 mills to 6 mills.

The increases — which, combined, would amount to an extra $30 a year in taxes on a $200,000 house — are expected to generate $5.6 million a year to start for New Orleans government. By 2018-19, the hikes would generate $6.2 million annually for the city.

The legislation is just the first step in a multistep process to put the proposal before the city’s voters.

Necessary steps include two-thirds approval by the Legislature, a statewide vote on Nov. 4, the City Council’s OK and then a vote of the New Orleans public.

Suchitra Satpathi, one of New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s aides, said the tax hike would ensure that police and fire protection is “at a level that we think is adequate.”

For the committee, advancement of the bill was an easy decision. Committee members spent more time delving into how covenant marriages are faring in Louisiana than into the property tax increase.

A covenant marriage makes it more difficult to separate or divorce.

Legislators learned that covenant marriages represent a tiny fraction of the unions officiated in Louisiana but also reflect a much lower divorce rate.