The Tea Party of Lafayette’s fight against Tax Increment Financing (TIF districts) was magnified Thursday night after a sold-out crowd heard a comical case against TIFs, those highly controversial economic development districts where additional taxes are imposed within the district’s boundaries to fund private development.

The local Tea Party group has certainly had some dealings with TIFs over the past six months, as the group successfully fought against three different proposals that would have paved the way for potential new taxing districts around town. The first TIF to unravel was the now defunct plan to fund Parc Lafayette, a chic retail center and a luxury hotel in the most commercially appealing part of town.

Then came two bills in the Legislature, one of which would have created a TIF district for UL Lafayette and another that would have given taxing powers to a proposed Lafayette Parish Redevelopment Authority.

All three proposals were pulled at the request of local officials, who were bombarded with opposition from TPL members.

“Everything is economic development now,” radio personality Moon Griffon told the audience. “If you pay more taxes, we’ll develop all this stuff and everything will be great and everyone’s gonna be happy. But when did that ever happen? When did you ever prosper by having less money in your pocket?”

Thursday night’s presentation from Randal O’Toole, a libertarian scholar with The Cato Institute, largely focused on out-of-state TIFs gone bad that mostly have relied on additional property taxes (Louisiana tends to rely on extra sales taxes to fund TIF development). But O’Toole — and many TPL members in attendance — seem to oppose all TIFs, even those like Louisiana Avenue’s Target shopping center that brought much-needed development to an area that may have never been developed without the incentive.

One unidentified woman in the audience called it “unfair” that north Lafayette residents from the city’s poorest neighborhoods have to pay an additional penny for every dollar they spend at the Louisiana Avenue shopping center, while more affluent residents like herself are able to pay less in sales taxes at the Target on the southside. That’s an insulting argument for the north Lafayette residents who gladly pay an extra 30 cents on a $30 purchase, a purchase that would have otherwise never been available without a bus ride or drive across town.

But TIF talk aside, what the TPL and Pelican Institute-sponsored event also offered is an interesting glimpse into a local conservative group that’s steadily growing in size, civic activity — and influence.

“One of the things the Tea Party has done is awakened a sleeping giant,” TPL coordinator and co-founder Joyce Linde said to the Tea Party enthusiasts. “That’s that silent majority, and we’re not silent anymore. We believe like you do, that we want to keep the spirit of the American dream burning in our hearts and souls. And to achieve this, we must return to smaller and less intrusive government, lower taxes and freedom as put forth in our Constitution.”

The local Tea Party, unlike most other Tea Party groups, will be endorsing political candidates in coming months. The group plans to be “very involved in the upcoming elections, locally, statewide and nationally.”

Carol Ross, the TPL emcee for the evening, had this to share with the hundreds who turned out: “Years ago, I was considered an intelligent person. I had my degree, I was doing well in my chosen field. Then I started hanging around with these damn Tea Partiers and Moon Griffon and it all went to hell. I’ve been called an idiot, a lunatic, an imbecile, and a racist among other things. But let me tell you, I know I’m in good company because none of those things apply. We know that, they know that, and the world is going to know that.”

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