Columnist Geoff Daily explores Lafayette’s economy and government, providing critical commentary about what’s working and what’s not.

Geoff Daily: Josh Guillory is spreading disinformation about consolidation

Photo courtesy The Acadiana Advocate | Illustration by Geoff Daily

I expect politicians to stretch the truth to fit their needs. But even by those low standards, Mayor-President Josh Guillory’s boosterism of consolidation stands out. Asked for his input into the Protect the City Committee’s work studying consolidation, he produced 18 pages of disinformation. 

A couple of months ago, the City Council charged the committee with answering 14 questions that address how consolidated government is or isn’t benefiting the city. You can see those questions here and watch videos of the first public meetings here, here and here.

The consolidation debate has simmered for more than a decade now, since the last attempt to deconsolidate failed in 2011 all the way through the push to split the City-Parish Council into two bodies in 2018, which created the government we have now. Still, there remain legitimate concerns that consolidation simply doesn’t work — both for the city and the parish. 

Rather than contributing constructively to this important community dialogue about the future of local government, Guillory instead chose to pollute the waters with misdirection and twist the truth to fit his preferred narrative — all in an effort to protect the status quo and keep the city and parish trapped in consolidated government.

The city and parish of Lafayette deserve to know the truth, though. So I’m going to show you why his claims don’t hold water. 

Claim #1: Consolidation has been a financial win for the city

The crux of Guillory’s argument is that consolidation is the “engine” for Lafayette’s success. This rests on a half-baked attempt to correlate the emergence of consolidated government with the city’s growth. Because the city grew through annexation, generated more tax revenue and now has a larger general fund balance since consolidation happened, he reasons, consolidation must be a success. But correlation does not equal causation. And while the facts he cites are all true, none support his assertion.

Sure, the city has grown. But that has nothing to do with consolidation; parish government has no role in annexation. If anything, consolidation made it harder for the city to annex land since it gave politicians elected by the parish a seat at the table they didn’t have before. For example, former City-Parish President Joey Durel noted Lafayette’s first city-parish president, Walter Comeaux, didn’t prioritize growing the city’s area and gave unincorporated properties access to city services, like clean water from LUS, which eliminated a major reason why properties wanted to annex in the first place. (Parish voters changed the title of the chief executive from president to mayor-president in late 2015, during Durel’s final term.)

It is also true that the city’s sales tax and ILOT revenue have grown since consolidation. But it’s pretty bizarre to credit consolidation as “the engine that has spurred Lafayette’s growth in land area, sales tax revenue, ILOT payments, and general fund balance,” as Guillory does. Shouldn’t a limited-government conservative credit Lafayette’s oil and gas industry, or its healthcare industry, or its universities, or its retail and entertainment industries? It’s silly to suggest that Lafayette’s particular form of local government had any significant positive impact on this growth.

It is undeniably true that the city’s general fund balance has increased since consolidation. But you know who determines how big the general fund balance is? The mayor-president and the councils during each budget cycle. If those elected officials decide to spend more, the fund balance is lower. If they decide to spend less, it’s higher. It’s a number that demonstrates absolutely nothing about whether consolidation has succeeded or failed in furthering the interests of the city. 

It is also true that the parish’s general fund balance has decreased since consolidation. But that doesn’t prove that consolidation “favored the city of Lafayette with respect to financial benefit” as Guillory claims. All that demonstrates is that the parish’s financial issues keep getting kicked down the road. Consolidation was created, in part, to fix parish finances. The people behind it stressed that very point to the Protect the City Committee this year. But it’s failed to do that. 

Guillory is cherry picking. Did the city grow since consolidation? Of course it did, just like every other city in the parish. But that doesn’t mean consolidating local governments had anything to do with it. 

Claim #2: No city dollars are being spent to benefit something other than the city of Lafayette

That is quite simply not true. There are numerous examples of city dollars paying for parish functions.

Like the IT department. While the parish pays for 16% of LCG’s IT department operations, it pays for 0% of its capital outlay. So every piece of computer hardware and software that’s used to run parish government is 100% paid for with city tax dollars.

Like the fire department. The parish is supposed to fully reimburse the city’s fire department for responding to emergencies in unincorporated parts of the parish. But it doesn’t have enough money to pay its bills. So city tax dollars are being used to put out fires outside of the city. That’s also true of other municipal fire departments. 

Like the widening of Dulles Drive. A significant portion of this multi-million dollar road project is outside of city limits, but it’s being paid for entirely with city tax dollars.

These are but a few examples of many. It is undeniable that city tax dollars are being spent in areas that are not the responsibility of city government. Yet Guillory either doesn’t understand that truth or he’s intentionally trying to hide it. 

Claim #3: The city has been taking money from the parish

He’s not entirely wrong about that. Every time a municipality annexes unincorporated property, it reduces parish government’s tax revenues by shrinking its tax base. 

But the city of Lafayette doesn’t shoulder all the blame for this. According to data from Lafayette Parish Tax Assessor Conrad Comeaux, since consolidation the city of Lafayette is responsible for 42% of the net taxable value of all the unincorporated parish land that’s been annexed. Together Youngsville and Broussard are responsible for more than half the value of all unincorporated land that’s been annexed since consolidation. Again, this isn’t an argument that proves consolidation has been good for the city but one that bolsters the case that it’s been bad for the parish. 

The best case he makes for this is pointing out how LCG uses the parish roads millage. While the city accounts for around 80% of LCG’s capital outlay spending on roads and bridges, city tax dollars pay for around 20% of the operations of the roads and bridges department. If the city were to pay for 80% of this department’s operations, that would free up millions of dollars to fix roads in unincorporated Lafayette, which is the primary purpose of the revenue from the parish roads millage.

What makes this so interesting is that it’s yet another tremendous example of how consolidation is hurting the parish too. If I were parish president, I’d be very upset that money meant to fix roads in unincorporated Lafayette is being spent to fix roads in the city. Yet Guillory seems to be arguing in favor of maintaining that status quo rather than recognizing it as a way the parish can benefit from deconsolidation too.

Claim #4: Deconsolidation will be a financial disaster for the city

The evidence he cites to back up this claim is laughably shallow.

First, he frets about increased retirement costs for city employees. He recently moved LCG employees from the municipal retirement system to the system for parish employees as a cost-saving measure. LCG employees are eligible for the parish system because of consolidation. But what he fails to mention is that this change only impacts new hires. 

So if LCG deconsolidates, the city’s retirement costs for employees won’t go up; they just won’t go down like he’s projecting. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The parish retirement system increases the threshold for when employees qualify for retirement benefits. So it could be a good move to revert to the municipal system if it means the city can offer employees better retirement packages that improve the city’s ability to attract and retain top talent.

Second, he warns that the city won’t receive any cost sharing from the parish and therefore its administrative costs will increase by 20%. But that’s based on the ridiculous assumption that a city-only government would have the same number of employees and overall administrative operating costs as consolidated government does. While there is a chance the city’s administrative costs will increase after deconsolidation, there is no reason to think those costs will go up by 20%. And they could just as well decrease once the city stops providing the parish with millions of dollars of subsidies.

Third, he bemoans the loss of influence the city will have over the spending of parish roads and drainage tax dollars. But he also claims the city doesn’t currently have that control. He lays out that the city gave up control of those dollars when it didn’t maintain majority control of parish government (only two of the Parish Council seats are city majority) after the councils split. He’s essentially suggesting that the city and parish are better off having partial control over spending on city-parish roads, bridges and drainage rather than having 100% control over their own roads, bridges and drainage spending. That’s absurd.

Guillory’s really twisting himself in knots trying to make this case that deconsolidation will be a financial disaster, but he fails to produce any serious evidence to back up his concerns.

The city and parish of Lafayette deserve better

Ultimately, Guillory tries to pin the whole Protect the City Committee effort on petty politics driven by some City Council members’ dislike of him and his political philosophy. But that’s nonsense.

Those council members have legitimate questions about the structure and merits of consolidated government. We all do. Unfortunately Lafayette’s “mayor” is more focused on taking political cheap shots than addressing those concerns honestly and fairly. 

To be clear, Guillory’s performance as “mayor” has absolutely validated many people’s concerns, including mine, about letting the city’s government be run by the parish’s president. And his continued disregard for the City Council’s authority has certainly added a sense of urgency to this important community conversation.

But valid concerns about whether consolidated government is in the best interests of the city and the parish long predate his election. And those concerns are focused on replacing our broken structure of consolidated government, not replacing any particular politician.

Even if Guillory legitimately thinks that consolidated government is a net positive, and even if he’s had an honest change of heart and no longer believes the city deserves its own mayor (by his own admission, he’s made a 180 on this issue since campaigning for the job), and even if he has valid concerns about the potential costs of deconsolidation, he has failed to add anything constructive to the public discourse around this very serious topic.

Not only that, but Guillory has made clear that as the city’s part-time “mayor” — who is elected by the entire parish — he sees “the resources of both [the city and parish] for the benefit of all of Lafayette’s citizens.” And his priority is to figure out “how we can best treat our constituents fairly, no matter where we live in Lafayette Parish.” That should frighten city taxpayers.

Our city will never regain its right to self determination as long as it is being led by a politician who isn’t accountable to city voters. And, as his response ironically proves out, the parish is getting shafted by consolidation too. 

Yet, rather than recognizing and respecting that, Guillory is protecting a status quo that’s clearly broken and no longer serves the needs of either the city or the parish of Lafayette — if it ever did.