BATON ROUGE, Louisiana — Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration won approval Thursday for $80 million in state construction plans, using all available spending capacity for the budget year before the governor exits office in January.
Backing without objection from the State Bond Commission gives cash lines of credit to dozens of projects that will be financed in the budget year that ends June 30. It also commits the state — and Louisiana's next governor, elected this fall — to a long list of future projects.
Money will pay for roadwork, courthouse renovations, sewer upgrades and park improvements in towns around Louisiana.
Tulane University will receive $1.5 million for planning and construction of its coastal center. The state will spend $3 million to make improvements to the TPC Louisiana golf course near New Orleans, which hosts the Zurich Classic on the PGA Tour.
One of the larger commitments, $2 million, will be spent on rehabilitation and improvement of the lakes near LSU in Baton Rouge, though the state senator who represents the area said the money would be better spent on roads, hospitals or higher education.
"We don't have a lot of money to spread around, and it doesn't fit into my priorities," said Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge.
Treasurer John Kennedy, chairman of the Bond Commission, questioned why the city of Baton Rouge wasn't committing money to help cover the restoration, which is estimated to cost upward of $40 million to dredge the lakes, add walking and bike paths and create a new park.
"It's a crown jewel and a rare thing to have an urban lake system like this," said Lauren Jumonville, with the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, which is spearheading the lakes project.
"I agree with everything you're saying, but the city's got to do its part," Kennedy replied.
Jumonville said the foundation is negotiating with city officials and seeking grant funding from other organizations to help pay for the restoration effort.
Competition for construction project financing from the state, called capital outlay, is tight. The construction budget was overstuffed by $385 million, leaving Jindal to choose which projects advanced to the Bond Commission. Lawmakers say the current system allows governors to trade projects for votes on other pieces of legislation.
To make all the numbers balance, the Jindal administration and the Bond Commission took $74 million away from projects that had been promised the cash and instead earmarked it to the new list of projects.
Mark Moses, director of the Jindal administration agency that oversees state-financed construction projects, said some of the projects were completed and didn't need all the money allocated. Other projects, he said, were unable to move forward this year.
"We're trying to put the money on projects that can advance," Moses said.
But representatives for one project that lost its financing, a planned levee crossing several Mississippi River parishes for hurricane protection, said they were ready to spend the $2.3 million that was being revoked.
Bond Commission members urged the Jindal administration to find a way to keep money flowing to the levee work, and Moses said he'd work something out.