Dardenne offers loan repayment plan

Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne said Tuesday the city of New Orleans should repay the Hurricane Katrina loan money owed the state to a fund that would help attract national sporting events, like the Super Bowl.

New Orleans has a shot at hosting the NFL’s Super Bowl in 2018, which would coincide with the 300th anniversary of the founding of New Orleans, Dardenne said during his annual “State of the Industry” address to the Tourism Summit in Baton Rouge.

“You have an expense involved in soliciting and hosting the game. Louisiana has to be ready to step up and do that,” Dardenne said. In addition to professional football’s biggest game, there’s college football, which next year will start a tiered playoff system leading to a big national championship game every year.

Dardenne says New Orleans has the hotels, entertainment and restaurants necessary for big sporting events, but needs to access money enough to solicit and host the games.

“None of these events come free,” said state Sen. Ed Murray, D-New Orleans. Murray chaired a committee looking into the issue and sponsored legislation creating a fund, which was approved but received no appropriations.

“It’s important to find a way to fund these events and not take money away from” the regular tourism budget, Murray said.

Over the past few years, the Jindal administration has taken money from the tourism budget to help fund other projects such as the Bayou Country Super Fest. The rediverted money cuts into the agency’s ability to market and support other tourism activities for the state, Dardenne said.

A recent dispute between the state and city could provide an opportunity to establish a fund dedicated to big sporting events, Dardenne said.

Aides to Gov. Bobby Jindal and to New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu are arguing over whether New Orleans should repay nearly $400 million in loans from the state to help keep the city financially stable after Hurricane Katrina.

New Orleans Deputy Mayor Andy Kopplin has said state officials never intended for the storm-devastated city to repay the loans. Gov. Bobby Jindal’s chief budget adviser, Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols, has said the state constitution prohibits forgiving debt owed to the state.

Dardenne says one resolution would be for New Orleans to send the money a fund dedicated specifically to attracting and hosting major sporting events.

The state should “think about a way we forgive some of that debt by asking the city of New Orleans to put up some money that otherwise would have been used to repay the bill and seed this fund, since New Orleans will be the biggest beneficiary,” Dardenne said, adding that having a revenue source for the fund “will hopefully keep the state from saying that all of the money has to come out of the advertising and marketing budget.”

The state’s current $25.4 billion spending plan banks on $28.3 million materializing from payments made on about $400 million in principal and interest owed by the city government.

Kopplin, of the Landrieu administration, did not respond to a request for comment on Dardenne’s idea.

Jindal’s press office released a prepared statement late Tuesday saying the loan proceeds are aimed at helping higher education and that the Legislature chose not to forgive the loans.