Legislators agreed Thursday to give the Jindal administration access to $14.9 million to woo unnamed businesses to the state. Members of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget freed up the money but complained about the secrecy in how the dollars will be leveraged.
State Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, said the request amounted to agreeing to accept a mystery box.
“I appreciate this conundrum we have where it’s ‘trust me and I can’t really tell you about it and I can describe the jobs, but I can’t tell you what the projects are,’ ” Claitor said.
“Are there any of the projects that you can tell us about at this time?” Claitor asked state Department of Economic Development Secretary Stephen Moret.
Moret said the Jindal administration is pursuing 13 projects that would require using money from the Rapid Response Fund. The fund is designed to give the state quick access to cash to use as incentives for attracting private businesses to locate in Louisiana.
He said the projects include two distribution facilities, a manufacturing project that would be relocated from another country, an automotive components manufacturer, two video game developers, a bio-fuels project and two aircraft maintenance repair and overhaul companies.
After the meeting, Moret said the “Capital Region” is under consideration for projects involving the biofuel and aircraft industries.
The prospects represent more than 3,800 new jobs and more than $1 billion in new capital investment, Moret said. Most of the jobs, he said, carry salaries ranging from $40,000 to $70,000.
The projects could drain the fund, Moret said.
Several legislators noted that nothing was said about the projects during the session that wrapped in June.
“Tell us what we’re doing and what we’re going to do and why we need this now and didn’t need it a month or so ago,” said House Appropriations Committee chairman state Rep. Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro.
Moret said most of the projects will make a final site selection within the next four to six weeks.
“As we were going into the legislative session, we were not anticipating the number and scale of projects we have now. That’s good news,” Moret said.
Moret said the money needed is sitting in the fund. All he required was the authority to use it, he said.
Senate Finance Committee chairman state Sen. Mike Michot, R-Lafayette, said the budget committee meets once a month. He questioned why the administration would ask to sweep the Rapid Respond Fund instead of coming forward with specific projects as the need for money arises.
“Things change. The economy changes,” Michot said.
Moret said timing is a problem. He said a decision will be made on some of the projects by September.
“We will not win all these projects,” he said. “I am confident we will win somewhere in the range of four to seven of them.”
Claitor said he was relieved the projects described did not include the poultry industry, referring to the economic development dollars the state spent to prevent a Union Parish chicken plant from closing.
“Although there’s nothing wrong with chickens, I’m more comfortable with these types of things that you’re talking about,” he said.