Questions raised about some of state’s revenue plans

Advocate staff photo by ARTHUR D. LAUCK-- State Sen. Jack Donahue, R- Mandeville questioned  Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols Monday about the wisdom of funding higher education with one-time dollars.
Advocate staff photo by ARTHUR D. LAUCK-- State Sen. Jack Donahue, R- Mandeville questioned Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols Monday about the wisdom of funding higher education with one-time dollars.

A New Orleans legislator criticized the Jindal administration Monday for proposing to take $100 million from his city’s convention center to help balance the state budget.

“This is a really bad precedent to start ... This is a horrible precedent,” state Sen. Ed Murray, D-New Orleans, said during a state Senate Finance Committee meeting.

Short of the money needed to keep state government services at their current levels in the fiscal year that starts July 1, Gov. Bobby Jindal wants to sell property, use legal settlements and take millions of dollars from the New Orleans convention center’s reserves.

The Finance Committee began combing through the $24.7 billion proposed state spending plan Monday with the help of the Legislative Fiscal Office, which reviews the financial impact of legislation.

The fiscal office raised concerns about LSU hospitals needing more money than budgeted and projected savings materializing from the Jindal administration’s efforts to identify tax fraud.

Meanwhile, the state Attorney General’s Office is weighing whether the state legally can take $100 million from the New Orleans convention bureau.

The committee’s chairman, state Sen. Jack Donahue, questioned the governor’s budget approach. He said Jindal wants to pump more than $400 million in one-time, or nonrecurring, dollars into higher education.

At some point, Donahue said, the state will run out of one-time money.

“There’s only so many properties we can sell in the state of Louisiana,” he said.

Donahue, R-Mandeville, asked what will happen if state Attorney General Buddy Caldwell concludes the state cannot take $100 million from the convention center.

Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols, the governor’s chief budget adviser, said she is confident the proposed spending plan is sound.

Nichols said the convention center will receive a dollar-for-dollar return in the state construction budget.

“We’re in active discussions with the convention center,” she said.

Murray said he has not heard from a single person who is in favor of the state taking money that the convention center amassed from hotel/motel taxes collected in New Orleans.

He said higher education would be financed at the expense of the New Orleans area.

“Somehow, they’re being penalized,” Murray said.

Nichols said the city will receive state construction dollars for another phase of the convention center expansion.

Murray asked if any other city’s hotel/motel tax dollars are being taken.

Barry Dussé, state budget director for the Jindal administration, said the money was taken because a project was available for the repayment of the dollars.

State Sen. Greg Tarver, D-Shreveport, interjected that New Orleans always seems to dominate the state construction budget.

“About time New Orleans paid something back,” he said.

Donahue tossed the questioning back to Murray.

“Thanks, Sen. Tarver. Really nice,” Donahue said.