Dardenne seeks veto of hike in Superfest support

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Fans enjoy music during the annual Bayou Country Superfest in May at LSU in Baton Rouge. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Fans enjoy music during the annual Bayou Country Superfest in May at LSU in Baton Rouge.

Unhappy about an 11th-hour funding addition for Bayou Country Superfest, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne wants the governor to remove the money from the state spending plan.

Two state senators declined Thursday and Friday to discuss the additional $200,000 draw on the lieutenant governor’s tourism funds. The amendment crept into the $25 billion state operating budget late in the legislative session.

Dardenne said he planned to spend money on the festival but not to the degree agreed upon by legislators.

“I believe in the event ... but I don’t think the state should be called upon to support it more than the $100,000 we intended to provide for it,” he said.

The state operating budget also calls for Dardenne to spend $300,616 on the Independence Bowl, $948,112 on the Essence Festival, $250,000 on the Louisiana Special Olympics and $56,000 on a Creole plantation house, assuming the governor allows those appropriations to stand.

The Independence Bowl and the other events are expenses that pop up every year in the tourism budget. The Baton Rouge country music concert would be a new addition to the drain on those dollars.

In the past, Dardenne used event money from BP to direct a total of $600,000 to Bayou Country Superfest.

The dollars were paid over multiple years and gradually decreased from an initial infusion of $300,000 for the festival’s startup year.

With the event no longer a fledgling concert, Dardenne planned to give Bayou Country Superfest $100,000 in the upcoming state budget year. The money would come from now dwindling dollars that BP sent the state to bring in tourists after the Gulf of Mexico oil leak.

The lieutenant governor said the mayor made an agreement with the Jindal administration that excluded his input.

“We believe this is a great event,” he wrote the governor. “However, we do not believe that our office should be required to spend an additional $200,000 from our already limited tourism budget.”

In May, the 2013 Bayou Country Superfest drew nearly 70,000 people to LSU’s Tiger Stadium. Music fans came from 46 states, Puerto Rico, Canada and Scotland.

Gov. Bobby Jindal signed into law last year a tax rebate for the Superfest promoters. The rebate applies to ticket sales and parking charges.

Dardenne said East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden approached the Jindal administration during session for $200,000 in state funding for the Superfest.

The governor’s chief of staff, Paul Rainwater, was in the state Senate chamber for Saturday budget negotiations that resulted in the doubled commitment.

“As always, when local officials ask for funding, we ask them to work with their local delegation. We encouraged the Mayor to work with his area legislators and the Senate chose to include funding for Bayou Country Super Fest in the budget,” Rainwater said in a prepared statement.

The state Senate added the appropriation in a 14-page batch of amendments to House Bill 1, the state operating budget for the fiscal year that starts in July.

State Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, offered the amendments that attached the draw on tourism funds. Through a spokesman, Donahue declined to talk about the added money for the country music festival.

It is unclear whether he offered the amendment on a Baton Rouge legislator’s behalf.

State Sen. Sharon Broome, D-Baton Rouge, did not return phone calls over a two-day period. Broome is the senior member of the Senate’s Baton Rouge delegation.

Holden was in Taiwan Friday. His top aide, William Daniel, declined comment on why $200,000 in state funding is needed for the popular festival.

Paul Arrigo, president and CEO of Visit Baton Rouge, said staging the huge event costs money. He said fees must be paid on any major event.

“We support Bayou Country Superfest,” he said, adding that he did not want to comment on Dardenne’s veto request.