Louisiana House advances construction budget, casino referendum

By David Jacobs | The Center Square

With little public discussion and no dissent, the Louisiana House approved a $4.9 billion multiyear construction budget Thursday.

“I’m not Santa Claus,” Lafayette Republican Rep. Stuart Bishop said. “Sometimes, I’m the Grinch.”

Bishop, who as House Ways and Means Committee chair sponsors the annual construction budget found in House Bill 2, said he worked hard to ensure members would get projects to help stimulate the economy in their districts, while using most of the available state surplus. He said he focused on roads and bridges, drinking water, ports and airports.

Bishop said he also prioritized finishing previously funded projects because he didn’t want “engineers or contractors to be hanging out there not being able to be paid.”

The House also unanimously approved House Bill 3, the Omnibus Bond Act, which provides borrowing authority for the five-year capital improvement program. The bill includes authorization to sell up to $400 million in bonds to pay the first installment of the state’s share of the cost for a largely federally financed hurricane and flood protection system in southeast Louisiana.

The House voted, 63-28, for House Bill 702, which calls for a referendum in St. Tammany Parish for voters to decide whether one of the state’s casino licenses can be moved from Bossier City to their parish. License holder Pacific Peninsula Entertainment closed DiamondJacks Casino in Bossier City last year.

The Shreveport-Bossier market is considered oversaturated. Rep. Mary DuBuisson, R-Slidell, said a study showed a new casino on the Northshore could attract one-third of the Louisiana patrons currently gambling in Mississippi, generating $27.2 million in annual revenue for the state.

Every House member who represents part of St. Tammany backs the bill. DuBuisson acknowledged some area residents have moral or religious objections to having the casino in their backyard but argued every parish citizen should have the right to participate in the decision.

The three bills now move to the Senate for consideration.