The Louisiana House sent Gov. Bobby Jindal a $2.7 billion state construction budget Thursday that includes money for the Old Governor’s Mansion and other area projects.
In an 89-7 vote on the final day of the legislative session, the House agreed to the Senate’s changes to House Bill 2. HB2 is the state construction, called capital outlay, budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
The House saved the budget bill for the last 15 minutes of the day, debating it after Jindal spent nearly an hour shaking hands and posing for photos with legislators, pages and visitors on the House sidelines.
State Rep. Jim Morris, R-Oil City, said he voted against the bill because of the number of projects that now are in it for members’ legislative districts. “In a deficit year and we’re (funding) pet projects?” Morris said.
State Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, summed up his objection to the state construction budget in two words. “Member amendments,” he said.
Funding for museums, the New Orleans Jazz Fest and community centers all found their way into the bill.
The budget is out of balance by roughly $10 million. The Jindal administration will decide which projects move forward.
The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Hunter Greene, R-Baton Rouge, told the House that projects sometimes fall through. “Based on my discussions with the administration, that’s somewhat reasonable,” he said.
Absent from the legislation is the Baton Rouge loop. The project to encircle the Capital City with a highway stirred up controversy last year as legislators argued fiercely over whether it belonged in the state construction budget. The governor ultimately purged funding for the project from the bill.
State Rep. Mert Smiley, R-St. Amant, double-checked with Greene on Thursday on the House floor on whether the project was back in the bill.
Greene said it was not.
“Are you sure of that?” Smiley asked.
Greene assured him he was.
In previous years, the House resisted giving the governor the power to pick the projects that receive funding. Many legislators, including Greene, wanted to create a tightly written spending plan that clearly outlines what will receive funding.
“At the end of the day, you have to trust that the projects with the most merit will rise to the top,” Greene said Thursday.
House Speaker Jim Tucker, R-Terrytown, said a few of the projects in HB2 are iffy. “We don’t want to leave money on the table either. This was kind of a unique situation,” he said.
Projects in line for new funding include:
--$845,000 to make repairs to the Old Governor’s Mansion in downtown Baton Rouge.
--$100,000 for a USDA Licensed Veterinary Biologic Facility in Baton Rouge.
--$50,000 for the Metro Aire Shopping Center in Baton Rouge.
--$100,000 to expand the Odell S. Williams Now and Then Museum of African-American History in Baton Rouge.
--$250,000 for a business park at Baton Rouge Metro Airport.
--$100,000 for natural gas distribution system improvements in East Baton Rouge Parish.