Sales tax to improve Lafayette airport headed to voters

Advocate staff file photo by BRYAN TUCK -- A plane sits at the terminal of the Lafayette Regional Airport in February. Show caption
Advocate staff file photo by BRYAN TUCK -- A plane sits at the terminal of the Lafayette Regional Airport in February.

Council members undecided between November, December ballot push

The City-Parish Council approved putting a temporary sales tax on the ballot later this year that, if passed by voters, would help fund a bigger, modern terminal at Lafayette Regional Airport.

Eight of nine council members voted to place the 1-cent sales tax on the ballot in either the November general election or in December. William Theriot cast the lone vote against the measure.

The tax would be levied for eight months, from April 1, 2015, until Nov. 30, 2015, and would raise around $35 million.

Lafayette Airport Commission Chairman Matt Cruse said the project’s total cost is an estimated $90 million.

He said the remaining money would come from bond sales by the airport and from state and federal grants.

“I can tell you the state and federal dollars are out there for those (municipal) airport projects,” Cruse said.

Cruse said the money generated from a tax could not legally be used for anything other than the terminal project, and cannot be collected for longer than the eight months.

Also, he said, the tax would not be levied on groceries and prescription drugs.

The issue that drew the most debate Tuesday was whether to place the proposition on the November or December ballot.

Councilman Andy Naquin said he would like to see the proposition on the ballot for the primary election in November, which historically draws more voters than the December election.

Cruse countered the Airport Commission, which will pay for a campaign to pass the tax, will have to spend more for political advertising in November than in December during the campaign to persuade voters to pass the tax.

Brandon Shelvin questioned whether cost was the real reason for pushing for a December election.

It’s a truism, he said, that taxes have a better chance of passing when there are fewer voters.

“Let’s be frank,” Shelvin said. “It’s more advantageous to do this in December. ... Let’s not be misleading.”

A proposed amendment to the resolution Tuesday, which would have mandated putting the measure on the November ballot, failed 6-3. The City-Parish Council ended up approving the measure without specifying whether it would be on Nov. 4, a Tuesday, or Dec. 6, a Saturday.

“As far as I’m concerned, Saturday is the preferred election day,” Councilman Donald Bertrand said.

Bertrand said the Nov. 4 primary ballot will be filled with elections that command voters’ attention.

“All the oxygen in the room will be sucked out by the (Lafayette Parish) School Board and the municipal elections,” he said.

The Dec. 6 ballot will have the runoff elections.

The terminal at the airport was built in 1965 and was last remodeled in 1989.

The new terminal would be 40 percent larger with the capacity to expand.

Cruse said Lake Charles and Alexandria, cities sporting modern airports with four boarding gates each, received money for expansion through federal expenditures for storm or military base relocations.

As it’s designed, Lafayette’s new terminal would have five boarding gates with the room to expand to seven gates. Cruse said the terminal accommodate growth in Lafayette air travel through 2030.