Politics 12.23.2008

There was little discussion when the city-parish council voted this week to schedule a parish-wide election in April for a new $26 million bond proposal — to be paid back with existing tax revenue — for road and bridge maintenance in the rural, unincorporated part of Lafayette Parish. But now, the lone vote against the election is speaking out about reasons why he is opposed to the proposal. District 8 Councilman Keith Patin calls Lafayette Consolidated Government “broken.”

“There are so many inefficiencies and inequities in the model we’re using,” he says. “I don’t want to put a $26 million quart of oil into an engine that’s ready to blow up.”

Patin says he received more calls from constituents on the bond proposal than he has any other issue since he’s been on the council. He says city residents, which make up a majority of the parish’s tax base, should not be subsidizing the infrastructure for parish residents who pay lower property tax rates. He also points out that the parish has 25 “islands” of unincorporated areas, which are surrounded by the city limits but have yet to be annexed. Annexation requires a majority vote from the people in any given area.

Further complicating the picture has been aggressive expansion from the smaller parish towns like Broussard and Youngsville. As the towns have encroached on the parish’s sales tax base, the unincorporated areas have been left with not enough tax revenue to support their needs. “They’ve expanded to the point where the dynamics have changed,” Patin says. “Consolidated government is allowing the smaller municipalities to feather their own nest at the detriment of the parish, and the people in the city of Lafayette end up having to pick up the tab. That’s wrong.”

City-Parish President Joey Durel takes a different view on the issue. “To be overly parochial is, in my opinion, being very short-sighted,” he says. “We can’t deny the moral obligation that we have as a parish to take care of our parish.” Durel points out that the smaller municipalities complain they don’t get enough of their parish property taxes back, and residents in the unincorporated areas argue that the city keeps all the sales tax money they spend in Lafayette. “The arguments go both ways,” Durel says.

Durel adds that this issue is not one that was brought on by consolidation and that the municipalities have always subsidized the rural, unincorporated areas. Prior to the 1996 merging of Lafayette city and parish government, all parish-wide property taxes went to parish government, which used the majority of those funds in the unincorporated areas, leaving the cities and towns to fund their own projects with municipal taxes.

U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, a New Orleans Democrat, has been appointed as the new chairwoman of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee. In political terms, it’s a major bump in influence and rank for Landrieu, who already was chairing a subcommittee of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee and sitting on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “Bolstered by my seats on other key committees for our state, this assignment provides the seniority to fight even harder for Louisiana’s more than 350,000 small businesses,” she says.

While serving on the small business committee, Landrieu has developed a strong coalition with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and taken a lead role in disaster recovery legislation. She recently met with President-elect Barack Obama to “emphasize the importance of American small businesses to the economic recovery of the nation and any community affected by future disasters.”

Landrieu replaces Sen. John Kerry, a Democrat from Massachusetts who was appointed recently as the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In a prepared statement, Kerry said small businesses should feel “proud” to have Landrieu at the helm. “As small business committee chairman, I traveled to Louisiana with Mary and I saw firsthand her passion for helping small-business owners in her state and across the country. After Louisiana was walloped by hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Sen. Landrieu put Washington on notice that she wouldn’t accept a second-rate federal response and she fought for aid to rebuild her state’s economy.”

“A slap in the face to our university and to Louisiana taxpayers.” That’s what state Sen. Mike Michot called the Independence Bowl’s recent decision to pass on UL and instead invite the Northern Illinois Huskies to play in its Dec. 28 post-season matchup against La. Tech. Many Ragin’ Cajuns fans have questioned why the Shreveport bowl, which received a $359,160 state subsidy last year, would give preference to an out-of-state school. The Cajuns and the Northern Illinois Huskies both finished the season 6-6, but UL finished higher in its conference standings and is a relatively short drive away from Shreveport.

Last week, Michot and two other Lafayette lawmakers and UL alum — Reps. Joel Robideaux and Page Cortez — told Louisiana Gannett News that the bowl’s officials will have some explaining to do when they show up before the legislature next year, hat in hand. “It’s very frustrating,” says Cortez. “There’s no chance that Northern Illinois will bring the fan base to spend money in the hotels and restaurants that the Acadiana community would. Forget the money that would have gone to UL Lafayette. It’s ridiculous how much better Louisiana schools were passed over. They get state funding, so they should keep the dollars at home.” Adds Robideaux, “They’re going to have to answer for it, that’s for sure.”