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News » Panel backs $865 million surplus spending plan

Panel backs $865 million surplus spending plan

Panel backs $865 million surplus spending plan
Lawmakers quickly agreed Monday to a proposal to spend most of an $865 million state government surplus.

The House Appropriations Committee advanced House Bill 2, the state construction budget, to the full House after adding another $30 million in spending from money left over in a previous fiscal year.

The measure includes one of the planks in the Jindal administration's plan for keeping the Saints in Louisiana.

With the additions to the legislation, $783 million of the surplus is committed to construction projects. Some of the remaining money is expected to be used to reduce the state Agriculture Department's debt.

HB2 now goes to the full House for consideration.

The new projects include $2 million for the Pecue Interchange in East Baton Rouge Parish as well as $2.5 million for the Audubon Park Commission in New Orleans.

The bill also now contains $10 million for a children's hospital project in Shreveport and $7.5 million for state emergency shelters

"Where is all this cash coming from?" asked House Speaker Pro Tem Karen Peterson, D-New Orleans.

State Rep. Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro and chairman of the appropriations committee, told her the bill uses money that was left over after the state paid its expenses in the fiscal year that ended June 30.

Nearly all of the surplus is in the construction - or capital outlay - budget bill.

The bill contains:

* $300 million for coastal restoration.

* $246 million for roads and bridges.

* $98 million for projects on the campuses of the state's public colleges and universities.

* $85 million to renovate the Superdome. The renovations are part of a state incentive package for the New Orleans Saints Football team.

* $24 million for ports.

State Rep. Hunter Greene, R-Baton Rouge and the bill's sponsor, said $67 million of the surplus will be deposited into the state's rainy day fund.

Fannin said $15 million of the leftover money will be given to Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain for his agency, provided legislators approve the plan.

Strain wants the Legislature to reduce some of the debt he inherited when he took office more than a year ago.

The state constitution limits how a surplus can be spent. A surplus can be used to reduce the state retirement systems' debt, fund construction projects, restore the coast, build roads and lower debt.

Gov. Bobby Jindal wants to spend $85 million on the Superdome as part of a long-term deal to keep the Saints in Louisiana through 2025.

The Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District, which oversees the Superdome, asked the University of New Orleans to study the financial impact of the Saints , the Hornets basketball team and other things.

The study's preparer, UNO Associate Dean for Research Janet F. Speyrer, did not return four calls for comment over several days.

The study, which was released last week, shows the Saints generated about $20.1 million in taxes for the state in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2008.

The Saints' contribution to state tax collections was topped by the Sugar Bowl and Bowl Championship Series. Those games, according to the study, netted $26.3 million in tax revenue for the state.

The state is paying the Saints $23.5 million a year in cash under a deal brokered by former Gov. Mike Foster. Jindal wants to reduce those payments to a maximum of $6 million a year.

The study indicates the Saints are profitable locally.

"Direct expenditures by the Saints organization contribute in an important way to the New Orleans area economy. In addition, the spending of visitors to the New Orleans area for Saints games generates substantial economic impact for the region," the study concluded.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: May 12, 2009

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