Governor shuffles funds in construction budget

Faced with limited dollars for a long wishlist in the state construction budget, the Jindal administration recommended scuttling money for existing projects Thursday to generate roughly $105 million for new projects.

The State Bond Commission backed the shuffling of funds, which frees up dollars for projects such as revamping a boat launch on the Amite River, replacing hot water pipes at Southern University in Baton Rouge and continuing renovations of the community center in Westwego. Only State Treasurer John Kennedy raised objections at the meeting, saying the Jindal administration’s juggling pushed existing projects to the back of the line.

“We’ve started projects that you said needed ... money in July. Every one of them was shovel ready. Now 90 of them are shutting down. Some have spent taxpayer money, and they go to the back of the line. That’s not managing cashflow to me,” Kennedy complained during a meeting of the State Bond Commission.

Mark A. Moses, who oversees the construction budget for the Jindal administration, said the $80 million in canceled funding came from projects that were complete and had leftover money or from projects that stalled. For example, Moses said, work hasn’t been done on the overlay of Bayou Drive in Assumption Parish since 2010 because the project needs an additional appropriation from the Legislature.

The administration recommended that the state also not move forward on:

$11.6 million to build a new Office of Public Health central laboratory.

$800,000 to patch, repair and overlay La. 3038 in Gonzales.

$100,000 to help restore Longue Vue House and Gardens in New Orleans.

$100,000 to build a bureau for State Police in St. Tammany Parish.

$70,000 to widen the sidewalk on Stanford Avenue near LSU in Baton Rouge.

Simmesport Mayor Eric John Rusk wrote the Jindal administration and the bond commission to implore them not to rescind $390,000 for an evacuation shelter and community center in his Avoyelles Parish town. “The town is currently under contract to purchase ... the building. This agreement should be executed within the next 4 months,” Rusk wrote.

The bond commission brushed aside Rusk’s plea and pulled the funding. The $80 million shuffled from ongoing projects was merged with $25 million in capacity already available for new projects.

Moses said legislators piled more projects into the state construction, or capital outlay, budget than the state can afford. “For every one dollar we can fund, there’s about $13 we can’t fund,” he said.

Making his first appearance before the bond commission, Moses said the administration picked projects that represent the best investments for Louisiana. He said the Jindal administration wants to create spaces for the future rather than just repairing or replacing buildings.

Despite raising objections to the administration’s approach, Kennedy voted in favor of it along with the rest of the bond commission.