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Editorial: Tax Commission needs reform

Last Modified: Saturday, November 30, 2013 4:26 PM

A recent audit of the Louisiana Tax Commission revealed that its oversight of property taxes has been inadequate. This is a clear signal that reforms are needed in the way the commission is doing its business.

A July audit from the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office found inadequacies in the way the commission provides oversight of property taxes. It said the commission regularly approved changes that parish assessors made to property tax bills without checking the accuracy of those changes.

“We’re going to make every effort we can to address all those issues,” Tax Commission Chairman Pete Peters told lawmakers on the audit review committee. “Hopefully, we’ll have a better system as we move forward.”

Peters’ comments — and a new written response to the audit also released recently — were a sharp turnaround from previous statements made by staff members of the commission.

In a first response to the audit, the commission rejected nearly all the suggestions, disagreed with the review, and said the auditors don’t understand property tax law or the commission’s role.

Lawmakers bristled at the response in a September meeting of the Legislative Audit Advisory Council and pressed the commission to make changes. Peters didn’t appear at that hearing, an absence that also prompted complaints.

The commission is a five-member panel, with all commissioners appointed by Gov. Bobby Jindal, who also received criticism for his appointments after the audit came out. The commission oversees a $3.8 million budget and a staff of 36 people.

The audit said the Tax Commission approved more than $118 million in reductions to assessed property values for 20,822 business and residential properties and $10 million in increases for 3,374 properties from 2010 through 2012 without verifying the new assessments.

Auditors also said the Tax Commission didn’t make sure the local assessors reappraise properties every four years as required under the state constitution, and didn’t review what caused similar homes to carry sharply different tax bills.

The auditor’s office suggested a series of changes to the process for overseeing the work of parish assessors, including more intensive reviews and follow-ups. Peters agreed to each proposal.

“I think the commission is doing a good job, and we will do better with the improvements that have been suggested to us and that we are following,” said Kay Katz, a tax commissioner and former state lawmaker.

The shift from the commission prompted praise, but lawmakers also said they want future updates about the progress to ensure the changes were effective.

The Legislature needs to now make sure the Tax Commission makes the necessary reforms so that property tax payers can be assured they are getting a square deal.

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This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Mike Jones, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.

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