It appears the Cajundome really is in jeopardy of losing $200,000 in state revenues following Thursday's near unanimous vote by the House of Representatives. The tally: 86-3.
Even with a last-minute amendment by Republican Rep. Joel Robideaux of Lafayette, the bill, considering it gets through the Senate, would have a negative impact on the Cajundome and its ability to compete with similar facilities in other cities.
The bill is HB 420, and it was authored by Rep. Vincent Pierre, and co-sponsored by Rep. Terry Landry, both Lafayette Dems. If approved by the Senate, HB 420 will redistribute $200,000 from the state's cut of Lafayette Parish's hotel/motel tax - money that has been allocated to the Cajundome since 1998. That money, according to the proposed legislation, will be used for saving Holy Rosary Institute. One possible issue, however, is the Sisters of the Holy Family, owners of the property, are not the named recipients of the redistributed funds. Listed in place of the property owners is the committee of a private non-profit called Holy Rosary Redevelopment.
It is questionable whether the Louisiana Constitution even allows for money that is already dedicated, to a public entity no less, to be redistributed to a private organization, and could be interpreted as a "prohibited use" as defined by Article 7, Section 14 (A) of the state constitution. Titled "Donation, Loan, or Pledge of Public Credit," Section 14 (A) reads:
Prohibited Uses. Except as otherwise provided by this constitution, the funds, credit, property, or things of value of the state or of any political subdivision shall not be loaned, pledged, or donated to or for any person, association, or corporation, public or private. Except as otherwise provided in this Section, neither the state nor a political subdivision shall subscribe to or purchase the stock of a corporation or association or for any private enterprise.
"There's no way to audit a private organization to even see how the money is being used," says former longtime state Rep. Rickey Hardy, highlighting the fact HB 420 makes no mention of the accountability requirements for the Holy Rosary Redevelopment committee.
Robideaux's amendment guarantees $2,887,016 from the state rebate will still go to the Cajundome. Yet, the annual rebate is now averaging about $3 million, meaning the private committee for saving Holy Rosary will still get most of the cut as proposed in the bill, says Cajundome Director Greg Davis.
"The truth of the matter is if this bill passes the Senate, we will not be getting the money we need," Davis tells The IND. "We need all of that money. We did a 10 year cash flow projection, and it includes assumptions of a 3 percent inflationary increase in the hotel/motel tax. So for our budget projections, we've factored in that the amount we get each year from the tax will be increasing. We know the costs of our maintenance needs will be increasing too, especially considering we have buildings that are 20 and 12 years old. This bill will really make matters worse for us."
Before going to the Senate floor, the bill's fate must first be determined by the Senate Finance Committee.
Click here to read more on why it may be an issue to redistribute dedicated tax dollars from a public to a private entity.