[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.
MAY 21 Gambit columnist Clancy DuBos writes about the Mother's Day shooting, and how the stages of shock and blame and healing mirror those traveled by the same city following Hurricane Katrina. The city will recover, just as it did following the storm, by reaching out to help the people injured most seriously by the event, DuBos writes. It's how we heal, he says.
MAY 21 Here's a post on the Advocate (but buried on a subpage, not on the front) that reports something Louisiana Voice reported some time ago: a top DOE official lives in Los Angeles and "commutes" to Baton Rouge. The positioning of the story caused a stir on Facebook Monday, with several posters asking if the Advocate was covering someone's hiney. Sentell's stories on DOE are notoriously soft, and this one is no different: don't expect any hard questions in here.
MAY 21 Here's another post from blogger Tom Aswell about the "course choice" program. He's already reported on kids being signed up without their consent or knowledge, and has more here: For example, he tells of a six-year-old who was signed up for high school Latin. He also digs a little deeper into the sister companies of the main one operating in Louisiana; all of them seem to have complaints against them. Stinky.
MAY 21 Given the 80 percent cut in higher ed funding since he's been in office, it's clear Gov. Jindal would rather give tax cuts to out of state companies than have a functioning system, blogger Dayne Sherman argues in this post. The cuts have been such a disaster, Sherman says, that it will take 30 years to fix what's been broken. He says he believes the aim is to shut down most of the schools before Jindal leaves in 2016.
MAY 21 Blogger CB Forgotston says there are too many elections in Louisiana, and they're costing us too much money. The proof is in the pudding: turnout for most of these nonsensical pollings gets worse and worse, CB opines, even as millions of dollars that could be spent on health care or higher ed go down the tubes. The legislature must take action to stem the tide of pointless elections, he says.
MAY 21 Here's an interesting investigative piece by WVUE on the retirement benefits of some Jefferson Parish public employees. According to the story, the taxpayers are paying 100 percent of the retirement contributions of employees who started work prior to a certain date in April 1986 -- and have done for more than 30 years. It costs the parish millions annually, and might not be legal, the story reports.
MAY 21 This post on Bayou Buzz provides insight from Louisiana's intrepid pollster, Bernie Pinsonat, on the winners and losers from this year's legislative session. But to hear Bernie tell it, there's almost nuttin but losers: Jindal, the Republican party, the Fiscal Hawks all get big goose eggs in his win column.
MAY 20 This post on The Lens takes a look at a huge (either $500K or $250K) bill that one NOLA charter now has for school lunches. The RSD says the charter group didn't fill out the proper paperwork for federal reimbursement, but the story details how the RSD didn't ensure the people running the charter had the proper training, despite requests from hapless charter employees trying to fill out forms. Either way, somebody's asleep at the wheel.
David Calhoun and Elizabeth “EB” Brooks are the first two employees of Lafayette Central Park Inc., the nonprofit charged with turning Lafayette Consolidated Government’s 100-acre Johnston Street Horse Farm property into a passive public park. Calhoun was named executive director, and Brooks is director of planning and design.
There will soon be a whole lot of shakin’ going on at Benny’s Sportshack Supplement Depot, a new concept by Opelousas native Benny Nele. Located at 2002 Johnston St., the supplement shop, smoothie bar and café, featuring hot off the press paninis and wraps, plans to open in late May.