Covering Louisiana

Oct 17, 2013 5:04 PM by associated press

State construction spending reworked by Jindal

Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration reworked the state's construction budget Thursday, pulling money from ongoing projects and redirecting it to help pay for $105 million in new projects to start this year. The Bond Commission agreed to the reshuffling - but only after Treasurer John Kennedy, chairman of the panel, blasted the approach as not setting priorities for spending the state's limited money for construction work.

"This kind of makes a mockery of the capital outlay process," Kennedy said. Nearly $80 million was reallocated from dozens of projects already underway, like road work and economic development initiatives, to instead start new projects, combined with $25 million that already had been available for new work.

Kennedy said the administration claimed the projects now losing some of their funding were listed as administration priorities when they were approved only a few months ago. He said slowing them down to start more construction work keeps projects half-finished, and he questioned if that was an appropriate way to use taxpayer dollars. "On July 17, you came to us and you had these same projects and you said every one of these was shovel-ready and every one of these was a top priority. Now, a few months later, none of them are shovel-ready and none of them are a priority. What changed between then and now?" Kennedy said. Jindal's facility planning chief Mark Moses said 18 of the 94 projects losing funding were completed and had money left over that could be reallocated. He said some projects had more money than they could use this year and others had slowed because their local funding had dried up or lessened. "It's not that the other projects are more important. It's just based on the cash flow," said Moses, director of the Office of Facility Planning and Control.

Jindal's top budget adviser, Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols, said the process of shifting money among projects was normal, based on ongoing evaluations of their progress and their cash needs. Simmesport Mayor Eric John Rusk disagreed with an administration assessment that his town didn't need the $390,000 slated to buy a new community center that would double as an evacuation facility if needed. "Pulling this funding at this time may cause significant hardship for the town as they have an agreement to purchase in place," Rusk wrote in a letter provided to the Bond Commission.

Despite the mayor's plea, the Avoyelles Parish town lost its funding in the reshuffling plan that was approved without objection Thursday. Kennedy said he didn't vote against the changes because he knew Jindal had the support of the rest of the commission. Even with the extra cash, lawmakers still won't get all the work started that they proposed, because as usual, they overstocked the budget with construction projects and left the governor to decide which favored projects can begin.

More than $350 million in new projects were competing for the $105 million in funding capacity, Moses said. That type of situation gives a governor the ability to pick and choose which lawmakers' construction proposals move ahead and can let a governor punish and reward legislators for their votes and policy positions. The state borrows money for construction projects through bond sales to investors, with the dollars paid off over time with interest.

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