State officials agreed Thursday to spend construction dollars on an opera house, nonprofit organizations and a New Orleans subdivision’s fence, despite questions generated about the projects.
The state Bond Commission approved $1.6 billion in borrowing for those projects and others in the state construction, or capital outlay, budget.
The budget is drawing criticism for calling on state funding for a private college, museums, a high school alumni association and community organizations. Those groups found little room this year in the $25.3 billion state operating budget because of scarce revenue.
Political commentator C.B. Forgotston detailed the projects under a picture of a pig on his Internet blog. The inference was that the projects are political pork.
“If you are unhappy that something like state and federal highways, state hospitals, colleges, universities, etc., are not being funded this year simply look at what is a higher priority,” he wrote on an Internet blog.
Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater, the governor’s top budget aide, said Thursday that the projects are lingering remnants of prior governors’ administrations, not new projects backed by the Jindal administration.
“These are projects that we’ll have to honor,” Rainwater said.
During the state Bond Commission’s meeting, Treasurer John Kennedy pressed the Jindal administration for details on some of the projects.
He flipped through a 23-page list of projects, picking out certain ones.
On nearly every project, the Jindal administration responded that it was an old project predating Gov. Bobby Jindal’s inauguration.
What, Kennedy asked, is the state building by contributing $140,000 toward a new fence for the Kingwood Homeowners’ Association in eastern New Orleans?
“It’s a fence at Kingwood subdivision,” Assistant Commissioner Jerry Jones of the Division of Administration said, echoing the words in Kennedy’s question.
“That’s what I was afraid of,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy asked if Kingwood is a private subdivision.
Jones, who oversees construction projects for the Jindal administration, said it probably is.
Kennedy moved on to Acadia Parish’s Grand Opera House of the South and to emergency generators for a Washington Parish organization called Home Away From Home Inc.
Jones told him those are old projects that predate recent rules that force local projects to undergo a detailed analysis and to contribute dollars toward the ultimate cost.
State Rep. Robert Marionneaux, D-Grosse Tete and chairman of the Senate committee that helps craft the construction budget, jumped to Jones’ defense.
He asked Jones to remind the treasurer that some of the projects have been in the budget for years and may not have been scrutinized.
Construction projects often are funded over multiple years.
“We’re really flushing these old projects out,” Marionneaux said.
The Bond Commission’s director, Whit Kling, said some of the projects date back to 2002.
Kennedy continued going through projects, asking about a walking and bike trail.
“Old project,” Jones told him.
State Rep. Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro, quietly watched the back-and-forth discussion between Kennedy and Jones before asking to speak.
“Were any of those you questioned in my district?” Fannin asked, triggering laughter.
After the meeting, Rainwater said the Jindal administration led recent efforts to limit the number of local projects in the state construction budget.
He said there was an explosion of local projects in the budget prior to Jindal taking office.
New local projects, he said, now require a feasibility analysis, prioritization and a local funding match.