The bill would create what amounts to a tax increment finance district for UL and allow the university, through a board that comprises university brass and boosters, to levy additional taxes.

[Editor's Note: Late last week Rep. Robideaux pulled the bill. It will not be considered during the 2011 legislative session.]

A bill by state Rep. Joel Robideaux, no party-Lafayette, that would create an “improvement district” for UL Lafayette, is facing opposition from some well-placed conservatives. The bill would create what amounts to a tax increment finance district for UL and allow the university, through a board that comprises university brass and boosters, to levy additional sales, ad valorem and hotel occupancy taxes in accordance with state law. House Bill 566 is currently assigned to the House Municipal & Parochial Affairs Committee.

It’s Section F of the bill — Taxing Authority — that is raising the hackles of opponents:

 

In order to provide funds for the purposes of the district, subject to limitations and prohibitions of the Constitution of Louisiana, the district shall have the power to levy ad valorem taxes, sales taxes, and hotel occupancy taxes within the district up to five mills of ad valorem taxes, up to two percent of sales taxes, and up to two percent of hotel occupancy taxes, or any combination of such taxes above which may aggregate the full amount so authorized of each and in addition to any other ad valorem taxes, sales taxes, or hotel occupancy taxes, or combination of such taxes, then in existence or permitted to be in existence within the district. All taxes so authorized shall be imposed by ordinance adopted by the district, acting by and through its board of directors subject to approval of a majority of the qualified electors residing within the boundaries of the district voting on the proposition at an election called for such purpose. However, if there are no qualified electors residing within the boundaries of the district, no election, proceeding, notice, or approval shall be required for the levy of such taxes.

In an email to Robideaux — members of the media including The Independent along with some Tea Party of Lafayette members were copied on the epistle — Carol Ross, a frequent guest on Moon Griffon’s radio show and wife of tea party sympathizer and Acadiana Gazette publisher Ron Gomez, lays out her concerns:

Rep. Robideaux:  I am asking that you withdraw the above captioned legislation from consideration and further requesting that your fellow legislators speak, work and vote against it, for the following reasons:

• It establishes an autonomous taxing district, governed by an un-elected board of directors to pursue  “cooperative economic development among the parish of Lafayette, the city of Lafayette, the state of Louisiana, the district, and any other entity, public or private...”

• This autonomous, un-elected board shall “have the power to levy ad valorem taxes, sales taxes, and hotel occupancy taxes within the district up to five mills of ad valorem taxes, up to two percent of sales taxes, and up to two percent of hotel occupancy taxes, or any combination of such taxes above which may aggregate the full amount so authorized of each and in addition to any other ad valorem taxes, sales taxes, or hotel occupancy.”   And “In addition to the other authority provided to the district, the district shall have all the authority provided to an economic development district” -- to establish a Tax Increment Financing -TIF- district.  Further, the board has the power to “dispose of or lease its property or assets by public bid or private negotiation.”  

• This autonomous un-elected board shall have the power to establish the boundaries of the district and if there are no qualified electors in the district, there does not have to be a vote of the people to set up this district and/or levy taxes.   Further, to my knowledge, the boundaries of the district have not been set forth and according to HB 566,  may be expanded by a simple majority vote of the un-elected board.

• Furthermore, this district is set up as a local governmental subdivision, in perpetuity.

• The governing board shall consist of the following:
(a) The president of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette or his designee.
(b) The administrative and finance vice-president of the UL Lafayette or his designee.
(c) One member appointed by the Board of Directors of the UL Lafayette Foundation.
(d) One member appointed by the Board of Directors of Ragin’ Cajun Facilities, Inc. (??????)
(e) Three members appointed by the president of the University of Louisiana Lafayette.

• Worst of all, and in my mind possibly illegal and/or unconstitutional (which has never stopped the Leg in the past, unfortunately), the make up of the board presents a clear conflict of interest.  The very people who will be levying the taxes are the very ones who will benefit.   Furthermore, since the University is a subdivision of the state, the president and vice president of finance are employees of the state.   So, in effect, any department head or group of employees in any other department of state government should have the power to do the same?   See where this is headed?   And if this passes, every other university in the state will do the same, without any input or vote of the people.

I just hit the highlights, there’s a lot more to dislike in this ill-conceived legislation.  And yes, we’re strong supporters of the university, but this is the wrong way to do it and it’s going to cause a backlash against the university, and I know we don’t want that.

So, please, Rep. Robideaux, withdraw this legislation and save us all from a damaging and pointless battle.

Carol Ross

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