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News » Deal may benefit taxpayers, Jindal says

Deal may benefit taxpayers, Jindal says

Deal may benefit taxpayers, Jindal says
BATON ROUGE -- Gov. Bobby Jindal said Friday that the state will do "what is in the best interests of Louisiana's taxpayers" in working out a new agreement to keep the Saints in New Orleans.

However, he cautioned that the state is still in negotiations with the National Football League team and nothing has been finalized.

Jindal's comments came after key members of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget -- Sen. Edwin Murray and House Speaker Pro Tem Karen Carter Peterson, both New Orleans Democrats -- criticized a reported deal in which Saints owner Tom Benson would buy the Dominion Towers building next to the Superdome and rent space to the state to house agencies displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

"I don't want Mr. Benson deciding" how much rent the state pays to lease space, Murray said. Peterson said that if the state is looking to lease offices, all landlords with appropriate space should be given a chance to submit proposals.

"I don't want the Saints to hold us hostage," she said. "It is not appropriate. . . . Are we looking at other options? Is it a fair deal for rent? . . . We need to know what is comparable."

Michael DiResto, a spokesman for the Division of Administration, an arm of the governor's office that negotiates leases and contracts, among other duties, said the state needs about 320,000 square feet of space for state administrative offices in the New Orleans area.

Sen. John Alario, D-Westwego, said Thursday that the Dominion Tower deal with Benson is being considered. Such an arrangement could lower what the state pays to Benson in inducements.

The Saints' contract with the state expires after the 2010 Football season, and both sides are working to strike a deal in time to make a pitch for a Super Bowl in 2013 at NFL meetings in mid-May. League owners are wary of awarding a Super Bowl to the city without a contract with the team in place.

Under the deal now in effect, the state will end up paying the Saints $186.5 million over 10 years, including $23.5 million this year and $23.5 million next year.

State and Saints officials have refused to comment on any terms of the deal or when talks may we completed.

Jindal said the state is still negotiating, so any terms discussed now are premature.

"The talks continue to go well," he said. "We will only bring a . . . deal forward if we think it is the best interest of the Louisiana taxpayer."

The governor said that leasing space sometimes is cheaper than building a state office building, while in other circumstances building is a better option. In recent years, the state has built a half dozen new state office buildings in downtown Baton Rouge as a way to save money on annual lease payments.

"We have a responsibility to go out for RFPs (requests for proposals) . . . to look at all" space that may be available for leasing to the state, said Rep. Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. "Tom Benson is in the business of doing what is best for himself; we are charged with taking care of the taxpayers of the state."

Fannin said although his committee may get first crack at approving any new deal with the Saints, he has not been briefed on the plans so far.

Jerry Jones, head of the governor's office that deals with renting office space, said that the concept of building a new state office tower is not dead, but is one of a number of options being considered.

Jones said some of the factors that have been taken into consideration now are the state's talks with Benson, the cost of building a new structure as opposed to renting space, and the financial effects building a new structure might have on the state's bond debt limit.

But Murray said that Jones told lawmakers a year ago that leasing "did not make economic sense."

"My concern is we get a deal brought to us at the eleventh hour" by the administration for an up-or-down vote with little legislative input, Murray said.

. . . . . . .

Ed Anderson can be reached at eanderson@timespicayune.com or 225.342.5810.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: April 18, 2009

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