Senate OKS LCTCS construction budget

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RICHARD ALAN HANNON /
Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- State Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, speaks Monday on behalf of his Senate Bill 204.

Louisiana’s community and technical colleges won a convincing victory Monday in their bid to kick off a statewide building construction and renovation campaign with money raised outside the state’s normal funding process.

The state Senate voted 30-6 Monday, crossing the two-thirds vote threshold — 26 votes — needed for the Louisiana Community and Technical College to circumvent the state’s construction funding program called capital outlay.

Capital outlay forces hundreds of projects to compete for limited state dollars.

Critics said Senate Bill 204 would be a boon to two-year schools, while taking money away from the institutions that make up the LSU, University of Louisiana and Southern University systems.

Under SB204, LCTCS would be able to issue bonds to fund more than $250 million for 28 construction projects around the state including $39.7 million for Baton Rouge Community College and $92 million for Delgado Community College. The projects include new facilities to train nurses, welders, pipefitters and other occupations generally seen as keys to the state’s economic future.

Colleges would also find private partners to pay for portions of the expense and then borrow money against the state’s general fund for the rest.

SB204 came under fire from higher education leaders, state Treasurer John Kennedy and state Commissioner of Education Jim Purcell.

Kennedy has said the bill will hurt the state’s credit rating by putting Louisiana over its debt limit, the amount of money the state is legally allowed to borrow. He also said the bill’s passage would encourage the state’s other higher education systems to go around the capital outlay process.

Purcell has said LCTCS violated the state constitution by going around the state Board of Regents, Louisiana’s higher education management panel.

Past protocol called for Louisiana’s four college systems to prioritize their construction wish-lists to the regents, which would then prioritize the projects and submit them to be considered in the state’s capital outlay system.

Purcell also argued that the LCTCS construction projects would get the majority of their funding out of the state’s general fund — essentially taking money away from the state’s other institutions.

Purcell said the new construction could cost the state $20 million per year until they are paid off, a process that could last for decades.

But, apparently, senators were more swayed by the opposite argument made by LCTCS President Joe May and SB204’s sponsor Robert Adley, R-Benton.

May has argued in committee that the capital outlay process is slow and ineffective. An LCTCS document shows the system has been able to fund 43 construction projects using $350 million in alternative financing since 2001 versus only three projects worth $12 million through the capital outlay process.

Adley called the construction necessary to accommodate a system that could train as much as 75 percent of Louisiana’s future workforce.

SB204 now heads to the House.