Dardenne concerned about budget for park repairs

A building shows damage at St. Tammany Parish's Fontainebleau State Park Friday, Aug. 1, 2012 in the wake of  Hurricane Isaac. (File photo provided by Jacques Berry)
A building shows damage at St. Tammany Parish's Fontainebleau State Park Friday, Aug. 1, 2012 in the wake of Hurricane Isaac. (File photo provided by Jacques Berry)

Seven months after Hurricane Isaac, deluxe cabins battered by the storm at Fontainebleau State Park on Lake Pontchartrain remain closed to the public.

The state is losing $120 to $150 a night for each cabin at one of Louisiana’s most popular parks until repairs are made. Those repairs require money.

Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne said Friday that the shuttered cabins give him concern about Gov. Bobby Jindal’s revenue projections hitting their targets in the upcoming fiscal year.

“We’re sitting there with the biggest moneymaker non-operational and we’re afraid that will reduce our revenue,” Dardenne said.

Fees paid by state park visitors go into a Louisiana State Parks Improvement and Repair Fund. Instead of using the fund strictly for maintenance, Jindal wants to use it for operations, as he has in the past.

Dardenne said the fund generated $7.9 million in the current fiscal year, when the Fontainebleau cabins were open for several months. In the budget year that starts July 1, the governor is banking on the fund generating $8.5 million even though the cabins are closed, Dardenne said.

“This is the dog chasing its tail,” Dardenne said.

In a prepared statement, Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols said the park maintenance fund has continued to generate increasing revenue every year.

“The parks maintenance fund has been used as it is allowed, for park operations and maintenance,” she said. “Even so, since (fiscal year 2008-09), in addition to being appropriated a sufficient amount to meet his needs, the lieutenant governor has had at least $2.9 million left over in the park maintenance fund at the end of the year, which was available and could have been used for repairs.”

Budget hearings soon will kick off to debate the governor’s proposed $24.7 billion state operating budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

The budget funds hospitals, colleges, parks and other state services.

The House Appropriations Committee will start meeting March 12 to take an agency-by-agency look at the budget.

Dardenne said he is happier with the proposed budget than he has been with past budgets.

Still, Dardenne and the Jindal administration continue to be at odds over how state parks and tourism efforts should be funded.

At issue is whether the governor, facing slumping revenue, is diverting dollars meant to maintain state parks and historic sites as well as tax dollars designed to market the state as a tourism destination.

Additionally, rural libraries across the state likely will have to make do without any state aid.

Dardenne said $8.6 million is coming out of his tourism budget to pay for the Senior Olympics, a Creole plantation home, the state library, the arts and other expenses.

He also must help pay for a Shreveport bowl game, the Essence Festival, the New Orleans Bowl, the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation and the Louisiana Book Festival.

Dardenne said he is getting a little bit of relief because he does not have to write checks to the Super Bowl and the Final Four in next year’s budget.

Nichols said expenses like the Senior Olympics and other events should be funded with tourism dollars. The alternative, she said, would be to make reductions to other public services.

“We believe it’s important to maximize those available dollars instead of cutting healthcare and higher education,” Nichols said.