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Fri December 21, 2012 - Southeast Edition
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) More than $179 million in state construction projects will go forward after a key money panel on Nov. 15 approved the list of spending plans submitted by Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration.
The projects, supported without objection by the Bond Commission, include upgrades to the New Orleans sports arena, roofing and ventilation repairs at public colleges, highway widening and flood protection work.
Also approved were dozens of pet projects for lawmakers, including sports facility construction, playground improvements, levee work and wastewater system upgrades in municipalities and parishes.
The Hungarian Settlement Historical Society will get $170,000 for a museum in Livingston Parish. The Avondale Booster Club will receive $400,000 for playground and club upgrades. And the Junior League of Greater New Orleans is slated to get $400,000 to renovate its headquarters, thrift shop and annex building.
Lawmakers added millions more to the construction budget — called the “capital outlay” bill — than the state can spend for the fiscal year that began July 1. That left the governor’s office to decide which projects advanced, because it submits the list to the Bond Commission for cash lines of credit.
The state has a bond cap that limits Louisiana to borrowing $350 million per year for construction projects, and some of that money was set aside for projects continuing from prior years.
John Davis, director of the governor’s Office of Facility Planning and Control, said the Jindal administration weeded through the list to prioritize the projects.
“This is a culmination of several months of work,” Davis said.
Lawmakers who overloaded the construction budget acknowledged the situation gave the Jindal administration an ability to reward and punish legislators for their votes and policy positions.
Among the approved projects on the list, City Park in New Orleans will get $150,000 for maintenance and tennis center improvements, Southern University at Shreveport will receive $2 million for a new classroom building and St. Tammany Parish is in line for $980,000 for an emergency shelter and livestock facility addition.
The state will spend another $2.6 million on a performing arts center in Jefferson Parish, which has greatly exceeded its budget and generated finger-pointing among elected officials over who’s to blame for the mushroomed costs.
Members of the Bond Commission, including lawmakers, Jindal administration leaders and statewide elected officials, questioned little of the spending.
Among the handful of inquiries, Treasurer John Kennedy asked why the state was spending money on new mental health clinic space in New Orleans after shutting down a state-run mental hospital in the city.
“Why wouldn’t we, rather than build new ones, move the mental health facilities in the old one?” Kennedy said.
Jindal’s top budget adviser, Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols, said the construction plans are for smaller mental health clinics, with outpatient beds.
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