Was it political payback?
No one could say for sure Friday as legislators reviewed the list containing 36 state construction projects killed by Gov. John Bel Edwards – a list that seemed chock-full of projects sought by conservatives in the state House who opposed his spending and tax measures, including House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia.
Edwards used his right to line-item veto the 36 projects when he signed into law House Bill 2, which authorizes which construction projects are eligible for funding in the new fiscal year that begins on Saturday. In all, killing the 36 projects saves taxpayers up to $77 million.
As The Advocate reported on Sunday, governors have traditionally vetoed state construction projects to signal their unhappiness with legislators who don’t vote with them. State legislators – Republicans and Democrats alike – fight hard to get funding for these local spending projects, and their success in doing so helps them win re-election. In the news story, state Rep. Sam Jones, D-Franklin, the governor’s closest friend in the Louisiana House, said that adherents of less government should expect less government when it came to Edwards’ decisions on which projects to veto.
Gov. John Bel Edwards is facing the first of several key decisions centered on a single ques…
Richard Carbo, the governor’s spokesman, downplayed the role of politics with HB2, saying that Barras and other conservative Republicans received funding for many projects. “It’s not like we’re going down slashing projects based on who’s requested them,” Carbo said.
In a short statement that accompanied the list of vetoes, Edwards said the cuts were needed, given the state’s limited capacity to sell bonds to finance the projects.
Barras lost $2.6 million for a road that he sought to connect with the Acadiana Regional Airport in Iberia Parish. The project is actually in the district of state Rep. Blake Miguez, R-Erath.
Barras also lost $250,000 to improve drainage off of Highway 90, a project in his district.
Barras, who didn’t respond to a text on Friday, sought to cut the governor’s spending priorities during the regular and special session just completed and made no major effort to rescue the governor’s tax bills from defeat before the conservative House Ways and Means Committee.
State Rep. Lance Harris headed the Republican House caucus in opposition to Edwards. He lost $10.8 million in his district that would have improved the infrastructure at England Air Park, a former air base. Local officials want to make the site more attractive for investment by a major private business. Harris did not respond to a text seeking a response.
Vetoing construction projects – known as “capital outlay” in the State Capitol – is not a surgical operation because Democratic senators may represent districts that include areas represented by conservative Republicans. So the air park that the governor vetoed is also in the district of state Sen. Jay Luneau, D-Alexandria, who raised $250,000 for Edwards during the 2015 governor’s race.
“I don’t know why the governor did this,” Luneau said.
Carbo said the governor’s office funded two other projects for the air park.
Edwards vetoed a $2 million drainage project involving the 17th Avenue Canal that would have benefited the district of state Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie.
The area also includes the district of state Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, who regularly opposes Edwards. Asked whether the veto was political, Appel replied, “You never know.”
State Rep. Chris Leopold, R-Belle Chasse, who did not side with Edwards on major issues this year, lost two projects. One would have spent $1 million to build a gymnasium for the YMCA in Belle Chasse.
“It’s a much-needed facility,” Leopold said.
The governor also killed $120,000 for a park in Belle Chasse.
Leopold pointed out that both projects are also in the district of state Sen. Troy Carter, D-New Orleans. Asked whether Edwards was punishing him, Leopold responded, “I hope not.”
Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center lost $12.5 million it sought for a “neighborhood clinic and urgent care center” in Mid-City Baton Rouge, a project sought by state Rep. Denise Marcelle, a Democratic ally of the governor.
She said the governor’s office saw it as unnecessary since Baton Rouge General operates another urgent care clinic in the vicinity and since the Lake operates another facility on Airline Highway.
State Rep. Jack McFarland, R-Jonesboro, lost two projects.
“Every governor has done it,” McFarland said. “He’s not any different. All I can do is accept it.”