Jun 14, 2011 9:27 AM by Lauren Wilson & AP
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal is encouraging the board overseeing a new public medical center planned for New Orleans to look at different options, opening the door to scale back a $1.2 billion proposal under pressure from fellow GOP leaders.
Jindal asked University Medical Center board members Monday not to limit their research to the plan offered by LSU to replace its Charity Hospital, which was flooded in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina. Instead, the governor said the board should research other models for construction.
"The board shouldn't be limited by what LSU has done. It's not simply to kick the tires on or to review the plan submitted by LSU," the governor said in an interview.
Jindal sent the board a letter to consider all options. It comes only days after three Republicans officials - U.S. Sen. David Vitter, House Speaker Jim Tucker and Treasurer John Kennedy - suggested a smaller proposal than that offered by LSU and backed by Jindal. The trio said its proposal would cost about $800 million.
The governor met with the three men Monday, along with medical center board members and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu to discuss the project.
Vitter said he expects the board to ask a consultant to review different models that could be used to care for indigent in the region, provide graduate medical education and attract paying patients with top-notch specialty care and research.
Meanwhile, the House budget committee narrowly agreed to add new roadblocks to building the center, with questions raised about its financing.
The proposal headed to the House for debate would require another layer of legislative approval from both the full House and Senate before dollars could be borrowed or contracts could be made to build the hospital.
With state and federal money already in hand, about $750 million is available for the project without borrowing.
Supporters of the proposal by Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Jefferson, said lawmakers need to look again at possible costs and state obligations tied to the center to replace the now-closed Charity Hospital. LSU is operating an interim facility until a new hospital is built.
"If this project goes wrong - and projects do go wrong - this Legislature will be saddled for years and years with a tremendous amount of debt," said Rep. Tony Ligi, R-Kenner.
Opponents of Henry's proposal said legislative committees already have oversight and further hurdles would add new, unnecessary bureaucracy.
Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, said both the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget and the State Bond Commission will have to approve pieces of the hospital project before it can be built.
"I'm just not sure I see any utility in this, other than as a way to slow down the progress," Leger said.
The Appropriations Committee voted 12-11 to forward the legislation to the full House.
LSU hospitals chief Fred Cerise said that as currently structured, any debt for the hospital would not be considered the state's debt but would be the debt of the UMC board. Supporters of Henry's proposal said, however, that practically speaking the state likely would end up picking up the costs if the hospital can't make its debt payments.