Politics blog: Louisiana governor’s race heats up; Pro-Dardenne PAC launched _lowres

Associated Press photo by Melinda Deslatte -- Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, a Republican, speaks to the Press Club of Baton Rouge about his campaign in this September 2014 file photo.

Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne asked Thursday for restoration of $2.1 million in dedicated tourism dollars that the Jindal administration says can be used to fill other budget holes.

State law does not allow the dollars to be spent on anything but tourism-related activities, Dardenne said. And he said stripping the dollars would hurt the overall budget because tourism is a big revenue generator for the state — bringing in $17 for every $1 spent.

Dardenne made his pitch to the House Appropriations Committee, which is going department by department over Gov. Bobby Jindal’s proposed nearly $25 billion state spending plan for fiscal year starting July 1.

“The $2 million makes a huge difference to us, getting it in the Office of Tourism budget,” Dardenne said.

The Jindal administration listed $2.1 million from the Tourism Promotion District Sales Tax proceeds as a revenue-raising option for legislators to consider, Dardenne said. “That money is statutorily dedicated to tourism. ... If they don’t give it back to tourism, it will be sitting in the treasury,” he said. “There’s no reason not to give that money back to tourism.”

Division of Administration communications director Meghan Parrish said the administration has no problem with the money going to tourism as long as the Legislature approves where the reductions are coming from to free up the $2.1 million.

Earlier, Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols told the same committee that she did not “redirect the revenue to tourism but do support doing that. ... I didn’t redirect it because I thought that it was important that the Legislature review the pass-through reductions and make decisions about those programs.”

Tourism gets .003 of every penny in state sales tax collections. The governor’s budget projects $23.1 million for tourism in the coming budget year.

But Dardenne said the latest Revenue Estimating Conference estimates on which the budget is supposed to be based put the tourism fund at $23.8 million.

He suggested that the Appropriations Committee may want to find out why $683,000 is not accounted for.

In past years, the Jindal administration has tapped the tourism funds to help defray costs of putting on national sporting and entertainment events as well as such activities as the Louisiana Special Olympics and Senior Olympics and the Louisiana Book Festival. Dardenne has complained about specific dollar appropriations to the groups — tourism money his department never sees. He and others have suggested creation of a separate fund from an as-yet-unidentified revenue stream to go toward special events that draw national attention.

This time around, the Jindal administration’s budget eliminates most of the so-called “pass-throughs” getting tourism dollars, including the Louisiana Book Festival.

Those left, such as the Essence Festival, receive cuts from the prior year’s allocation — which Dardenne said he supports.

“They have never taken a cut in any of the years you have struggled with the budget,” Dardenne said.

Dardenne advocated that legislators identify other dollars to help put on events they deem worthy.

“State tourism dollars should not be spent on Special Olympics, Senior Olympics, Bayou des Familles Park. We should find a way to help them in the state general fund,” he said.

House Speaker Pro-tem Walt Leger III asked whether an alternative funding source has been identified, especially for major events such as the Super Bowl.

Dardenne said one idea that’s being fleshed out is tapping into some of the new revenues generated from hosting the big events.

Under questioning by state Rep. Bubba Chaney, R-Rayville, Dardenne said he will make sure that the state historic site at Poverty Point — which recently became a World Heritage Site — will be protected.

“Too much work has gone into getting that designation. What an embarrassment a year after getting that designation to close it,” said Dardenne, of the West Carroll Parish site.