La. lawmakers hand decision-making on projects to Jindal, because refuse to pare down bill


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BATON ROUGE, Louisiana — Lawmakers have given Gov. Bobby Jindal all the power to choose among their favored projects in next year's construction budget.

They packed the bill so it contains $389 million more than the state has money to spend, leaving the governor to pick and choose which water system upgrades, economic development initiatives and parish road work will move forward in the budget year that begins July 1.

The Jindal administration hasn't indicated which new projects it will forward to the Bond Commission for lines of credit or when it will make those decisions.

House members tried to rein in the overstuffing of the budget, known as the "capital outlay" bill. But they lost that battle with senators, who loaded up the bill.

"The Senate must have the same old man over there that sold Jack the beanstalk beans," Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, said when the House approved the final version of the construction budget on the last day of the legislative session.

Louisiana has a cap on annual borrowing that limits spending on construction projects to $355 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1. The projects are paid with dollars borrowed through bond sales to investors, paid off over years with interest.

The Jindal administration proposed a list of projects to use up next year's available capacity and $120 million more. After lawmakers finished their work, the bill had twice as many projects competing for the cash lines of credit than available money.

"It's up to our local folks and us to stay in touch with the administration and the Bond Commission to see" if we can get them funded, said Rep. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, who as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee handles the construction budget in the House.

The overstuffing of the bill leaves hurricane repairs, university building upgrades and roadwork around Louisiana competing against a cancer research center in New Orleans, a state police crime lab expansion and dozens of lawmakers' pet projects.

Among local items seeking funding are recreational sport complexes, parks, livestock pavilions, small museums and senior centers.

By including more projects than available funding, lawmakers gave Jindal the ability to use the capital outlay bill as a means for rewarding or punishing legislators.

Jindal's Division of Administration offered little detail about how it will sift through the lengthy list of projects, saying it will analyze each project's immediate cash flow needs to determine how to best spend the available money.

"Every year we work to prioritize projects to fit into the constitutional limit and balance the budget. We are working with legislators on these projects so that we can continue investing in higher education campuses, infrastructure and other key projects," Meghan Parrish, spokeswoman for Jindal's Division of Administration, said in a statement.

The capital outlay bill totals $5.9 billion, but that covers multiple years and projects that may never get cash to proceed. It also includes projects that already have financing, like road work tied to $693 million in federal highway funding and $278 million in coastal projects with their own revenue streams.


Online:

House Bill 2 can be found at http://www.legis.la.gov

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