Legislators unhappy with projects list

When Gov. Bobby Jindal finalized a list of construction projects that the state would fund, he purged millions of dollars for maintenance on college campuses across Louisiana and for a high speed rail project.

The maintenance dollars were aimed at trimming a backlog in repairs at public colleges, while the rail project helped round up votes to support the $25.4 billion state operating budget earlier this year.

State Rep. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, said Tuesday that someone always gets left at the altar when funding is limited.

But this year a number of legislators feel jilted by the governor, he said,

“I’ve gotten calls from members who thought they’d had an agreement that their projects were going to be in the final version, ... and I explained that they weren’t alone,” said Robideaux, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee that oversees the construction budget.

The governor had the final say months after the session ended because legislators piled more projects into the state construction budget than state government can afford.

The governor’s list will go before the state Bond Commission on Thursday. The commission, which oversees state borrowing, will tackle construction projects designated as “Priority 2” for planning, land acquisition, site preparation and construction. The projects either need cash through borrowing or extended lines of credit.

Douglas Baker, communications director for the Division of Administration, said $351 million was available for Priority 2 projects. Of that, previously authorized lines of credit for ongoing projects consumed $325 million, he said.

Baker said the Jindal administration supported projects that were deemed priorities of regional delegations and collectively has spent more than $700 million on higher education projects.

“Not every project could be funded, but there are other ways to fund priority projects in the future and we will continue to work with the delegations,” he said.

Among other projects the governor agreed to advance to the Bond Commission for funding this year:

$115,000 to restore and repair the Cabildo in New Orleans.

$170,000 to build a fire training facility in Baker.

$1 million to widen Hooper Road to four lanes from Blackwater Bayou to Sullivan Road.

State Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, said he would like to know the governor’s thought process for nixing $76 million for the Southern, LSU, University of Louisiana at Lafayette and community and technical college systems to spend on maintenance.

“I’m at a loss without more information on what his thinking is. I’ll certainly want to look into it because deferred maintenance at our universities is important,” Claitor said.

Robideaux said he tried to be up-front with legislators in explaining that getting a line in the capital outlay budget did not guarantee funding.

“Obviously, there was a lot of stuff that was left out,” he said.

Also not making the final cut: $250,000 to plan and do engineering work for a rail station in the Shreveport-Bossier City area as well as study the feasibility of extending a route from there to across north Louisiana.

The overarching goal is to provide high speed rail service between Dallas and Atlanta with a stop in Shreveport-Bossier City.

State Rep. Roy Burrell, D-Shreveport, said the inclusion of the project in the capital outlay budget guaranteed his favorable vote on a compromise that revamped the governor’s state operating budget.

He said the governor assured him he knew the project was a vote clincher on the compromise.

“Either he’s reneged on his promise or I’m not sure fully what the situation is,” Burrell said.

Baker said the Jindal administration is working with the state Department of Transportation and Development to fund a high speed rail study for north Louisiana.

Despite sparring with the administration in the past, state Rep. Cameron Henry said he is sympathetic to the challenge the governor faced in bringing the construction budget into balance.

Henry, R-New Orleans, said projects like the high speed rail study comprise an ultimate wish list that cannot be funded with the state is struggling financially.

“With everything going on in this case, I can clearly see why that would not be a top priority for the governor,” Henry said.