By Victor Skinner | The Center Square contributor
The Louisiana State Bond Commission late last week delayed approval of $39 million in borrowing for the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board after local officials vowed to defy the state’s abortion ban.
Deputy Attorney General Emily Andrews told the bond commission Thursday, July 21, that withholding financing approval for New Orleans “is really about sending a message that defiance of state law is unacceptable.”
“There’s no question this act of defiance is unconstitutional,” she said. “We can all agree on the main principle, which is that a municipality and a parish cannot disregard state law. What we don’t agree on probably is the consequences.”
The New Orleans City Council unanimously passed a resolution on July 7 that prohibits city officials and local law enforcement from using public funds or resources to enforce the state’s abortion trigger laws, which went into effect after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last month. Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Williams also promised not to prosecute abortion providers, while Orleans Parish Sheriff Susan Hutson vowed to refuse to accept any person into custody at the Orleans Justice Center who is arrested for violating the abortion ban.
The defiance prompted Attorney General Jeff Landry to request the bond commission withhold funding in response and Andrews made the motion Thursday targeting one specific agenda item to give preliminary approval to borrow $39 million next year to continue a power plant project for the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board.
Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne objected to the motion, pointing out that the commission already approved several other funding projects for New Orleans.
“I think it’s a ridiculous move to try to remove one particular item as trying to send a message,” he said. “If you’re going to send a message, it really should have been all of them.”
Matthew Block, the governor’s executive counsel on the panel, also objected to the motion.
“It seems that time and time again this commission is being asked to make policy decisions when that is not the role of this commission,” he said.
Treasurer John Schroder said he supports the state’s abortion ban, but questioned why Landry doesn’t leverage the law to prosecute local officials for malfeasance. Landry did not attend the meeting.
“The attorney general has the ability to go and enforce state law,” he said. “He has plenty of tools. It’s his job, not mine.”
“This is a bad, bad road to get on,” Schroder said. “I do feel like we’re playing politics with this and I don’t like it.”
Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin argued in favor of blocking the funding approval to send a message that local officials must honor their oath to uphold state laws.
“This is called anarchy,” he said. “To, as a governmental body, decide you are not going to abide by the laws passed by the state of Louisiana and signed into an act by the governor of the state of Louisiana. In my opinion, they should all be impeached.”
The commission ultimately voted 12-2 to delay the $39 million authorization for a month, with Gov. John Bel Edwards’ two designees on the panel casting the only votes in opposition.
“It is disappointing and appalling that the Louisiana Bond Commission decided to halt funding for one of the most vital and valuable infrastructure projects, despite the fact that the right to an abortion remains legal statewide,” New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said in a statement.
Landry lauded the decision.
“Today, our Bond Commission forced elected officials in New Orleans to decide if they will enforce State law. The same folks who have turned the Crescent City into America’s murder capital by refusing to prosecute violent crime must now choose whether they prioritize playing partisan politics over granting basic amenities for their constituents,” he said in a statement. “I hope they come before the Bond Commission to explain why New Orleans should continue to receive millions of taxpayer dollars while refusing to comply with the laws enacted by our Legislature as required by our State Constitution.”