LA Construction Money Steered To Roads, Building Repairs

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Gov. John Bel Edwards' administration is stalling hundreds of millions in construction projects planned for state financing to instead steer more money to state building and university repairs and roadwork.

         The Bond Commission signed off on the plans Thursday without objection, though some lawmakers have expressed concern about specific projects that are being delayed.

         Nearly $267 million in projects will be bumped in line, like park improvements, parish water system upgrades and lawmakers' local projects, while $68 million in new projects will advance ahead of them.

         The new projects to win financing include more than $15 million for repairs to state buildings, $14 million for maintenance of public college campus facilities and $36 million for the statewide highway program — priorities that Edwards established when he ran for office last year.

         Mark Moses, director of Edwards' Office of Facility Planning and Control, said the reshuffling accounts for Louisiana's ongoing financial problems and tries to more closely match lines of credit to available dollars, while also focusing on items of importance to the governor.

         "This is a very aggressive strategy," he said.

         Louisiana borrows money through bond sales to investors to pay for much of its state-financed construction work, and the state has a debt ceiling that limits how much can be borrowed.

         Moses said the state is expected to have about $900 million to $950 million to spend on projects over the next few years through the construction budget, known as the capital outlay budget. Already more projects are approved and in the queue than those available dollars, so the Edwards administration will have to slow some work to keep spending in check.

         House Ways and Means Chairman Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, said the decision-making reflected a simple fact: "We just don't have the money to deal with all the projects that are proposed."

         Abramson unsuccessfully tried to shrink the size of the construction budget bill during the legislative session earlier this year.

         Rep. Tony Bacala, R-Prairieville, said he supported efforts to more closely match the construction budget to available money. But he described it as "disturbing" that the governor got to pick the winners and losers since lawmakers overstuffed the bill.

         – by AP Reporter Melinda Deslatte



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