Recognizing financial reality, members of the Louisiana House on Friday reluctantly accepted that the state has less money for the road, bridge and sewer projects that are so popular with their constituents back home.
The House approved House Bill 2, which authorizes the construction projects, after hearing state Rep. Neil Abramson tell his colleagues repeatedly that they have less money to spend than anyone wants.
“We are upside down so much on our capital outlay budget that it will take a lot of work to right-size it,” said Abramson, D-New Orleans, who handled the bill as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.
The vote was 80-14.
The state Senate now will take up the House version and make changes to it. The Senate’s changes will then return to the House; the two chambers will then settle on a final version.
“It’s the right direction we’re taking,” said state Rep. Jim Morris, R-Oil City, Ways and Means Committee vice chairman. “It certainly is a work in progress.”
Abramson, with the support of Gov. John Bel Edwards, is proposing to no longer put forward construction projects that have no chance of receiving funding from the Louisiana Bond Commission.
Abramson told his colleagues that the bill before them Friday was the result of hours he spent “reprioritizing” the projects the Legislature approved last year but that did not move forward from a lack of funds.
In all, the state will spend about $330 million in construction projects next year, despite a list of $1.2 billion in projects approved last year.
The House is funding about $125 million of the $300 million in projects sought next year by Edwards — projects meant to improve roads and repair government and public university buildings.
Abramson, though, could not provide a summary list on Friday of which projects he was proposing to fund and which projects he was proposing to ax.
For example, the original version of HB2 planned to fund construction projects at four golf courses around the state. Whether they are still being funded was not known Friday.
His colleagues nonetheless approved HB2 because they agreed that they have to reduce the number of projects eligible for funding and because they know that the Senate will take whatever the House approved and make its own changes.
Abramson acknowledged that the approach he was recommending would produce angst. Indeed, state Rep. Tanner Magee, R-Houma, complained that the Terrebonne Sports Complex, which is half-built, was not included in the bill.
Abramson said he would take another look to see if it should get funding.
In general, though, legislators showed admirable restraint in choosing not to grandstand on why a certain project in their district should get funding.
As state Rep. Jay Morris, R-Monroe, noted, if one succeeded in getting money for his project, then everyone else would attempt to do the same.
“Just be thankful you have some projects,” state Rep. Dorothy Sue Hill, D-Dry Creek, told her colleagues, noting that she has none for Allen Parish in southwest Louisiana.
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