A state Senate panel on Monday passed a symbolic resolution criticizing Gov. Bobby Jindal’s plan to take $100 million from the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center to help fund higher education in next year’s budget.
Although the vote in the state Senate Finance Committee was unanimous, the panel spent much of the discussion quibbling over just how strongly to word the resolution.
In its original form, Senate Resolution 42 sponsored by state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, used the word “denounce” to describe the opposition to Jindal’s plan.
In calling the governor’s plan “irresponsible” and “illegal,” Peterson said she chose “denounce” specifically.
“I chose that word very carefully because now and into perpetuity ... this is not right. The reason it’s happening is because we have failed to stand up to this governor,” Peterson said.
The House Appropriations Committee already has removed the money from the budget. But the appropriation could be returned by the Senate, Peterson said.
Peterson also read a statement taken from a May 7, 2008, news conference, just shortly after Jindal took office, when the governor called using one-time, or nonrecurring money such as proceeds from property sales, lawsuit settlements and the so-called “sweeping” of funds from one state fund to another as irresponsible and a poor way to run a state government.
In the case of the convention center, Peterson explained that the facility gets “a considerable” amount of its funding from a hotel and motel tax.
“Tourism is the engine of economic growth for the entire New Orleans region,” Peterson said adding that nine million tourists visited the area last year. “It’s not responsible, it’s not right and it’s not decent for any governor’s executive budget to take $100 million from New Orleans tourism and reallocate it for regular expenses; it’s illegal, in fact and it’s a horrible precedent.”
The state expects to be about $1.3 billion short of the money needed to keep state government services at their current levels in the budget year that begins July 1.
One of the biggest expenses in the governor’s proposed $24.7 billion spending plan is higher education. To fund the state’s public colleges and universities, Jindal plans to cobble together numerous sources of one-time money to fund the state’s public colleges and universities.
The governor’s chief budget adviser, Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols, has said the convention center has in excess of $100 million in reserves. She’s argued that the center has no standing to object to money being taken for the state budget.
After some back-and-forth, the committee decided to use softer language toward the governor settling on using the word “reject” instead of “denounce” at the suggestion of State Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville.