Robideaux vetoes Louisiana Avenue extension, kicking the ball back to the council

The gist: As expected, Mayor-President Joel Robideaux vetoed a council budget amendment that would have kept $7 million in a project to complete Louisiana Avenue. Instead the money will go into a stormwater diversion fund he proposed at budget introduction. The council could override the veto with a six-member majority, an unlikely outcome. 

Get caught up quickly: In Robideaux’s proposed budget, he took $7 million of capital outlay intended for finishing the construction of Louisiana Avenue and diverted it to a stormwater diversion fund. The council amended that budget to restore funding for Louisiana Avenue and restricted the stormwater fund to city projects. Robideaux has used his line-item veto authority to strike that amendment. 

Robideaux believes spending city money on Louisiana Avenue is illegal. In the narrative justifying his veto, he cited bond language approved by voters in 1961 that authorized the collection of a sales tax to fund debt for capital improvements. The language specifically states that city bonds for infrastructure projects like roads or drainage can only be used in the city.

But the Louisiana Avenue extension is currently on land that’s in unincorporated Lafayette Parish. Preserving the money for Louisiana Avenue would result in city dollars spent outside of the city. 

Robideaux argues drainage is “the priority of our constituents.” (His emphasis.) Reallocating this funding from Louisiana Avenue is part of his larger strategy to sweep the budget for what he considers lower-priority spending and redirect it to drainage. Robideaux has made similar moves in his term, successfully rededicating money from mosquito abatement and public health services to fund a drainage maintenance program and launch CREATE. More recently, Robideaux has targeted the library’s fund balance, resulting in a $10 million fund transfer — $8 million for roads and drainage, $2 million for parks — appearing on ballots this fall. 

No stormwater diversion projects are yet identified. On paper, the fund would have $46 million reserved for stormwater diversion. Only $7 million, pulled from Louisiana Avenue, is cash on hand. The rest of the money would come from future bond sales, most significantly for what was to be an extension of South City Parkway, which Robideaux cut in favor of drainage spending in his proposed budget. 

Robideaux suggests the Louisiana Avenue extension could still move forward. But he does not think it should do so until the land around the extension is annexed into the city of Lafayette. This is both to ensure that city funds are only spent in the city and to guarantee that any new tax revenue that’s generated by development along the extensions is collected by the city of Lafayette and not Carencro.

What to watch for: Whether the council tries to override Robideaux’s veto and if it can find the votes. It’s a priority for Councilman Jay Castille, who has frequently been at odds with Robideaux throughout the mayor-president’s first and only term. It takes six votes to override a veto, but only five council members supported the Louisiana Avenue project during budget wrap-up.