Update: The City-Parish council has now successfully called two special (emergency) meetings to finalize these taxes just days before their term expires. One is set for January 2nd, and the second for January 3rd. The inauguration of the new councils and Mayor-President will take place on January 6th.
This is just the the latest episode of that never-ending saga to extract ever-increasing amounts of money from a financially exhausted populace. On Tuesday, December 17th, the Lafayette City-Parish Council held their very last meeting ever. During that meeting, Kevin Naquin, Kenneth Boudreaux, Jay Castille, Pat Lewis, Bruce Conque, Liz Hebert, and Nanette Cook joined forces with wealthy land developers to create five new “Economic Development Districts.” Those EDDs aren’t anything but a vehicle to levy taxes, also known as Tax Increment Financing (TIF).
Like the highwaymen of old, these districts are designed to extract money from any soul unfortunate enough to wander by. The only stalwarts the beleaguered taxpayers have left, Jared Bellard and William Theriot, stood against the midnight-hour attempt to foist three different kinds of taxes on an unwilling or uninformed population: sales tax, property tax, and tourism tax. Our injury is only multiplied by the fact that these two warriors for the people are term limited and are unable to return in the new government.
They’ve tried and failed to get voter approval for taxes
Over the last few years, several different taxing authorities have attempted to levy a new or unnecessary tax on the local populace. Every single attempt to do so has been thrown back by the voting public.
The current tax districts are being heavily promoted by OneAcadiana, who purports to be the mouthpiece of local businesses. Anita Begnaud, who runs the Downtown Development Authority and refused to meet with us about the downtown taxing district, was the “Senior VP, Governmental Affairs & Communications” at OneAcadiana as her last job. Likewise, André Breaux, the current VP of Policy Initiatives and Governmental Affairs showed up at the only town hall addressing these taxing districts. That town hall was not put on by OneAcadiana, but by a private group of concerned citizens who wanted to why everything was happening so quickly. André Breaux didn’t speak at the meeting. In fact, he left early.
The reason this is important is OneAcadiana also heavily promoted the school tax. It represented $238 MILLION in new tax revenue to “keep the kids out of the rain.” To justify such an incredible sum of money, the school board was intentionally manipulating school enrollment numbers. This allowed them to embellish overcrowded schools with a huge marketing campaign while not even mentioning schools that were half empty.
Following the school tax debacle was the Library tax renewal, a new jail tax, a new sheriff tax, a new fire tax, and even a new sales tax in Scott, Louisiana. All of them were rejected by voters.
The public won’t approve new taxes
Local officials tried low turnout elections, they tried high-turnout elections, they tried spending $150,000 promoting taxes as a good thing, they tried spending $0 and hoping nobody noticed the tax was on the ballot. Nothing has worked. State law and the home rule charter say that the local government can’t raise taxes without voter consent. What if they can draw a special taxing district that doesn’t include a single voter? Would such a district still require voter approval? They think not – and so the scheme.
We first found out about this around November 15th, when the agenda for the November 19th meeting came out. During the discussion the tax beneficiaries feigned shock that none of their unsuspecting victims had been aware of any of this. After all, it took years of machinations to arrive at this crescendo; this public council meeting.
There really are no surprises with this council. Based on our voting scorecard, we knew exactly how each member was going to vote well ahead of knowing that they’d even be voting on these taxing districts. A year ago our scorecard said the vote would be 7:2 in favor. That’s an incredible shame, by the way.
Public notice law violations
Our first clue that something was different about this effort was when they brought up these measures on November 19th, but delayed voting on them until December 17th. Normally, there’s a two-week waiting period, which means the vote would have been December 3rd. For what odd reason did they decided to delay it?
Enter Revised Statue 33:9039.104, titled, “Authorization to create local and regional economic development districts.” To save you from reading the whole thing, let’s explore just the two parts that are relevant to this discussion. The first pertinent part says, “At least thirty days prior to the enactment of an ordinance to create a district pursuant to this Section, the governing authority of each participating parish and municipality shall conduct a public hearing on the proposed ordinance.”
That means, before they can vote on final adoption, they must introduce the ordinance 30-days ahead of time. They introduced ordinances at the meeting of December 17th. If final adoption must occur only after thirty-days from introduction, that puts us on or before November 17th. However, they introduced it on November 19th. That’s only 28 days. I know what you’re thinking: what’s a lousy two days? To the law, it’s an open violation.
But wait, there’s more
The next part of the law says, “At least ten days prior to such hearing (the introductory hearing of November 19th), the governing authority of each participating parish and municipality shall publish notice of such hearing in the official journal of the respective parish or municipality.”
What is an “official journal” and who is Lafayette Consolidated Government’s? Turns out that LCG’s council names its official journal every so often. The last time it happened was June 4th, of 2019, under resolution R-036-2019. That unanimously approved resolution declares the Daily Advertiser as the official journal.
In order for an Economic Development District to be established, the public must be notified ten-days prior to the introductory meeting by way of the Daily Advertiser. If the introductory meeting was November 19th, that means LCG would have to announce their intentions on or before November 9th. They didn’t. The first time these ordinances appear in the Daily Advertiser is November 15th. That’s just four-days notice, instead of the legally required ten-days.
Lafayette Consolidated Council has now violated the same public notice law twice
While they may have been talking about this for two plus years, it appears that everyone involved doesn’t know how the process actually works. Of course, it’s also entirely possible that they wanted to ram this through in the shortest amount of time to avoid discussion. It could be that they just hoped that no one would bother checking their math. But for the watchful eye of Citizens for a New Louisiana, they probably would have gotten away with it.
We’re the only organization holding them accountable.
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