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New Orleans Saints News

News » Lawmakers question Saints talks


Lawmakers question Saints talks


Lawmakers question Saints talks
New Orleans lawmakers said Friday that they are uneasy about the possibility of Saints owner Tom Benson becoming the state's landlord.


Members of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget reacted to reports that Benson may buy a downtown New Orleans office building neighboring the Superdome and lease space to the state as part of an agreement to keep his NFL franchise in Louisiana.

The details of the deal - including how definite it is - are murky, even to many legislators. Eventually, lawmakers will be asked to vote on the agreement.

Speaker Pro Tem Karen Peterson, D-New Orleans, said she does not want to be held hostage to an agreement that is negotiated behind closed doors.

"I am for the Saints, but I am not for how these negotiations are transpiring right now," she said.

State Sen. Ed Murray, D-New Orleans, said he is uncomfortable with Benson deciding where the state leases office space.

He asked what happened to plans to design and build a new state office building in New Orleans.

Jerry Jones, director of facility planning for the state, said the report about the state leasing space from Benson was premature.

"I can tell you that no final decision has been made," Jones said.

Later in the day, Gov. Bobby Jindal said he will only agree to a proposal that is in the best interest of the state's taxpayers.

"We have not reached an agreement yet, but the talks continue to go well," he said.

Jindal said it would be beneficial to have an agreement by May 18, when the NFL owners will begin deciding where to hold the 2013 Super Bowl. New Orleans wants to be a contender.

The Saints and the state are negotiating on keeping the NFL team in the Superdome past 2018.

Former Gov. Mike Foster brokered a deal that guarantees the team $23.5 million a year in cash inducements through the 2010 season.

Hotel-motel taxes were supposed to cover most of the cost of the inducements, which rose to $23.5 million after several years. However, those taxes have regularly fallen short, forcing the state to find money to pay the Saints.

The Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District, which oversees the Superdome and other state sports facilities, is negotiating with the Saints on the Jindal administration's behalf. Doug Thornton, senior vice president of SMG, is a key negotiator.

SMG operates the Superdome for the Exposition District.

Through a spokesman, Thornton refused to comment on the negotiations.

Facilities director Jones was one of the highest-ranking Jindal administration officials at the budget meeting Friday, putting him in the position of answering to legislators about the negotiations.

Peterson said she is concerned the state will lease office space on a noncompetitive basis, driving up the cost.

Murray wanted to know if Jones is being consulted on the financial numbers discussed for leasing.

Jones said he does not have "final numbers" for the proposal.

Peterson asked Jones to convey to the Jindal administration that it would be best to get the Legislature's input.

"We get hamstrung to vote up or down," she complained.

State Rep. Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro, said he has not been briefed on what the state is offering the Saints even though he chairs the House Appropriations Committee.

He said the Jindal administration needs to be careful about conflicts of interest.

"Tom Benson is in the business venture for himself," Fannin said. "We're charged with taking care of all the taxpayers of the state."



Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: April 19, 2009

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