By Melinda Deslatte
February 27, 2013
An art deco landmark in downtown Baton Rouge, a slice of a St. Tammany Parish psychiatric hospital campus and prime property near the Louisiana Capitol need to be sold within the next year to make Gov. Bobby Jindal’s budget balance.
Jindal proposes unloading six tracts of state property around south Louisiana to drum up $47 million, money that he’s using to help pay for public colleges in his budget proposal for the 2013-14 fiscal year that starts July 1.
None of the deals are done, and lawmakers have been reticent about making some of the sales, which need legislative approval before “for sale” signs can be planted on the sites.
The governor’s chief budget analyst, Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols, describes the sales as practical.
“As state government has consolidated and reduced its footprint, it makes sense to sell underutilized state government property, returning it to more productive use and generate savings that can be re-invested in services to taxpayers,” she said in a statement Tuesday.
Lawmakers question whether the sales will be done in time and if it’s appropriate to budget dollars that aren’t yet in hand.
“I don’t want to come back again and face some of the tough cuts that have to be made” if the dollars don’t pan out, said House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles.
Nichols said buyers are identified for nearly all the property.
As she presented Jindal’s budget proposal to lawmakers, Nichols said it was reasonable to use dollars the administration anticipated to have in hand, rather than make more reductions in state programs and services.
State Sen. Ed Murray, D-New Orleans, noted that the state still doesn’t have all the money in hand for a lease of the New Orleans Adolescent Hospital that the Jindal administration used to balance the current year’s budget, with only four months remaining in the fiscal year.
If the new property sales proposed by the Jindal administration hit snags and the money doesn’t arrive as expected, Louisiana’s colleges would face a new round of cuts under the governor’s spending plans.
Used to balance the governor’s budget are anticipated sales of the Point Clair Farm, a nearly 2,200 acre-site in Iberville Parish that is an unused piece of prison property; a now empty 1970s-era Baton Rouge office building called Wooddale Towers; a portion of the Southeast Louisiana Hospital campus in St. Tammany Parish; and the State Office Building, an art deco-era property in downtown Baton Rouge.
The governor’s budget also assumes the state will bring in $4.8 million from the sale of the former insurance building across the street from the Capitol, currently the site of a parking deck.
Several of the sales could face hurdles.
For example, lawmakers have agreed to sell Wooddale Towers, but for a required minimum bid of more than twice the amount anticipated by the Jindal administration.
For the old insurance building site, dueling appraisals greatly differ on its value, and lawmakers have expressed reservations about selling real estate so close Louisiana’s historic Capitol building to private investors rather than using it for government office space.