Sunday, June 23, 2024

Negotiations to continue on Louisiana project spending

by BIZ Magazine

By David Jacobs | The Center Square

Louisiana’s House of Representatives on Thursday approved a state construction budget but couldn’t muster the votes needed to advance the measure that would help fund those projects.

Rep. Stuart Bishop, the Republican chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, said he would return the funding bill to the House calendar to be heard again on Monday.

“We’ll work through that over the weekend with the opposition,” he said.

House Bill 2, which contains the capital outlay budget, passed 96-1. But the vote for House Bill 3, otherwise known as the Omnibus Bond Act, was 65-26, falling short of the two-thirds of members needed for advancement.

Bishop and Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, disagree on what to do with $534 million in surplus money left over from the 2019 fiscal year. According to the state constitution, $187 million must go toward paying down retirement debt and shoring up the “rainy day” fund. The rest can be spent on one-time expenses but cannot be used for ongoing government operations.

Edwards’ administration proposed spending the remaining $347 million on roads and bridges, coastal protection projects and long-delayed repairs to state-owned buildings. Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne said officials prioritized projects ready to move forward immediately that would boost the state’s economy.

Bishop’s bill proposes spending $200 million on capital projects. It would use $90 million to replace “rainy day” money that likely will be used to balance next year’s budget.

What’s left would be put into a special fund that could be used for projects or a revenue shortfall.

“This strikes the best balance between funding projects and saving for a potential downturn if we have to come back later this year,” Bishop said.

Also, legislators amended House Bill 3 to give their spending committees more control over which projects get submitted to the State Bond Commission. The governor historically has controlled that process.

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