Big money for infrastructure but not pandemic aid in Guillory’s proposed budgets

Josh Guillory
Photo by Travis Gauthier

The gist: In two budgets proposed Tuesday, the Guillory administration showered funding on infrastructure and Downtown Lafayette. But in its rescue plan budget, the administration allocated little to no money for direct economic aid, housing or attacking the pandemic.

Get caught up, quickly. Mayor-President Josh Guillory introduced two budgets to the City and Parish councils at a joint special meeting Tuesday night: LCG’s annual operating and capital budget, proposed at $629 million, and a budget plan for $86 million in funds received from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), the $1.9 trillion stimulus and recovery package passed by the Biden administration earlier this year. 

In effect, these are being treated as tandem budgets. Guillory populated his ARPA priorities with projects requested by council members for the regular budgeting process, which means it does not veer much into the pandemic-specific uses outlined by the federal government in its interim spending guidelines.

Infrastructure is a big priority in both documents. As proposed, the city of Lafayette would budget $72 million in capital spending for public infrastructure in the regular operating budget. Well over half of LCG’s $86 million ARPA budget would go to drainage or roads — the federal guidance on the eligibility of roads projects is unclear — and much of the projects outlined in the public safety and “competitive investments” portions of the plan goes to infrastructure too: sidewalks, a skate park and lighting upgrades.

Downtown is a (would-be) big winner. The administration proposed using $12.5 million for Downtown drainage, the single largest line item in the ARPA budget — more than twice what’s proposed for city-wide drainage in the rescue plan — and $29.5 million in five-year capital outlay on two new parking garages for the district in the annual budget. Also in the ARPA plan, LCG proposed $500,000 for reimagining the grassy triangle recently vacated by the Jim Crow-era statue of Confederate Gen. Alfred Mouton. Guillory is positioning Downtown investments as a means of redirecting the city’s growth patterns and reinvigorating Lafayette’s urban core. 

Stormwater management and housing were the two big priorities flagged by readers in our ongoing ARPA survey. You can still take part in it here.

“Lafayette has grown out, and we should have been growing up,” Guillory said Tuesday night. Guillory’s proposals do include spending for road extensions and widening. 

Housing, healthcare and the pandemic are all but left out. Their absence is more conspicuous in the ARPA budget. The U.S. Treasury highlighted public health expenditures, economic aid for small businesses and households and pay for essential workers among its specified uses. Lafayette has received north of $16 million in rent and utility assistance and has struggled to complete the small business aid program it launched last year. LCG also directed $1.4 million in federal funding Tuesday night for nonprofits, the bulk of which will go to addressing homelessness and housing insecurity. Still, advocates say the funding is falling short of the scale of the problem as housing affordability remains problematic and the number of people experiencing homelessness far exceeds the amount of available shelter. 

A budget is ultimately a reflection of our values, and this one shows more concern for the condition of our sidewalks than those who sleep and die on them,” Catholic Charities of Acadiana Executive Director Kim Boudreaux says. “While investment in infrastructure is critical and necessary, funding consideration should also be made for those who go without their basic needs being met during this public health crisis.” 

Homelessness response providers have decided not to return to congregate sheltering because of surging coronavirus cases in the area, Boudreaux says. The area was already below its normal shelter capacity ahead of the pandemic. At one time, hundreds of people were housed in hotels, repurposed as non-congregate shelters. That program is winding down, but a lack of affordable housing in the market has slowed case workers’ efforts to move the population into homes. Boudreaux says providers need money to keep the hotel program going. 

“We already have robust programs in place to assist with small businesses and housing stabilization,” LCG Communications Director Jamie Angelle says via email, noting the tranche of funding going to rental assistance. “Mayor-President Guillory has presented a very solid and equitable proposal for the use of these funds, and the administration encourages dialogue and welcomes additional input over the next four weeks.” 

Black leaders are pushing back on the proposal. At a Wednesday town hall organized by City Council members Pat Lewis and Glenn Lazard, residents excoriated the administration’s proposal for excluding council and public input and ignoring the quality-of-life needs worsened by the pandemic. The ARPA budget does include some infrastructure upgrades for LCG parks, but none to restore the deep cuts to the parks workforce made last year to much outrage among Black leadership.  

“I don’t think I like anything,” says Marja Broussard, a state vice president for the NAACP. “We know we can restore all the cuts [to parks and recreation] he’s made since he’s been there. All the workers. He can put money into safe and sanitary housing.” 

Wishlist. The inclusion of projects championed by council members eased some tension about the ARPA budget rollout. Council members were surprised by the administration’s move to formally introduce a separate ARPA budget, which they did not see until hours before the package was introduced. They moved to defer final adoption on the ARPA budget until Aug. 17, while Guillory pressed for urgency. Without the delay, the councils would have jointly adopted the ARPA budget in two weeks. 

“This is still very new,” says Councilman Josh Carlson, who raised flags about the administration’s ARPA timeline last week. Carlson said about 95% of the projects he requested were included between the two budgets. “I was pleasantly surprised.” 

All of this is subject to change. Council members have the discretion to amend both budgets, with a tentative Aug. 17 deadline on the ARPA money for final adoption. And the administration noted in its ARPA proposal that guidelines for this spending could change. Eligibility guidelines for road projects, for instance, remain unclear. The councils could defer the ARPA funding vote again for further discussion. Final adoption for the operating budget is scheduled for Sept. 9.