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News » Saints pact still and issue

Saints pact still and issue

Saints pact still and issue
Lawmakers will have at least two opportunities to vote on the proposal unveiled by Gov. Bobby Jindal and Saints owner Tom Benson to keep the NFL franchise in Louisiana.

The outcome will show whether legislators' grumbling over the deal extends to the votes they ultimately will cast.

First, legislators must approve spending $85 million of a state surplus to renovate the Louisiana Superdome. Secondly, Commissioner of Administration Ang?le Davis said lawmakers will be asked to approve the state's lease of office space from Benson.

Many legislators argue that the state should not be in the business of subsidizing a sports team when public health care and education are being threatened with massive cuts.

Lawmakers currently are contemplating how to handle a $1.3 billion shortfall for the budget year that starts July 1.

"The Saints resonate in New Orleans," said state Rep. Avon Honey, D-Baton Rouge. "Outside New Orleans, people love them, but not to that extreme."

State Rep. Eddie Lambert, R-Prairieville, said he is concerned about a for-profit business receiving money from the state.

"We have tremendous needs in this state. ... That $85 million can go a long way toward helping Louisiana citizens," he said.

Jindal downplayed the discord Friday, saying there is strong support for the proposal.

He said the arrangement reduces the team's reliance on state dollars by tying the subsidies to revenues generated by the Saints . For instance, the more tickets the team sells, the less state money it would receive, Jindal said.

"The goal and the hope is they'll be able to earn those dollars," Jindal said.

The team currently is receiving $23.5 million a year from the state with few strings attached - money that the state is struggling to pay.

As governor, Kathleen Blanco negotiated with the Saints on a long-term deal before Hurricane Katrina. A new agreement was never reached and Blanco left future negotiations to her successor.

Jindal said he is being frugal by renovating the Dome at a fraction of the cost of a new stadium. Benson has pushed for years for state dollars to build a new stadium for the team he owns.

Jindal's proposal calls for:

*??An $85 million renovation of the Superdome to widen concourses, add concession stands and restrooms, build new club lounges, add seating and construct new luxury boxes. The money would come from state funds.

*??Up to $6 million a year in cash payments from the state to the Saints , depending on how much money the team generates.

*??The state would pay about $7 million a year for 30 agencies to lease office space in a downtown New Orleans building owned by Benson's family. The rent is about $2.5 million a year more than the state currently is paying to lease office space in New Orleans, said Commissioner Davis.

*??The Saints and the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District, which oversees the Superdome for the state, would partner in developing a now-shuttered mall to create a "sports entertainment" district. The LSED would rent the mall and an adjacent parking garage from the Saints for $2.5 million a year.

The deal is supposed to keep the Saints in New Orleans through 2025, which would mark the 40th year the team would be receiving incentives from the state.

The state and the Saints inked their first deal in 1985, the same year Benson bought the team for $70.2 million.

Former Gov. Edwin Edwards gave the team concessions and tax breaks worth a little more than $2 million a year. That arrangement was supposed to last 21 years, or until 2006.

Benson tried to renegotiate the deal with former Gov. Buddy Roemer, who served from 1988 to 1992. Roemer turned him away.

In 1992, Edwards won a final term as governor and soon agreed to increase the team's take on game day concessions, lower the rent on the Superdome and build a state-of-the-art practice facility. In exchange, Benson signed a 25-year lease on the state-owned Superdome.

Former Gov. Mike Foster sweetened the pot in 2001 shortly after the Saints wrapped up their first winning season in more than a decade.

Foster offered the Saints a $186.5 million, 10-year package of additional aid to keep the team in New Orleans through 2010.

Foster's package includes annual cash payments to the team that escalated in later years. Foster told legislators at the time that a portion of the New Orleans hotel-motel tax and other sources would pay the subsidies.

Secretary of State Jay Dardenne, who was a Republican state senator at the time, warned that state taxpayers would have to pay the Saints because the deal's revenues would prove inadequate to cover the obligation.

Over the years, state taxpayers have been called upon to make increasingly larger payments to the Saints . In 2008, the payment expected from state government was calculated at $23.5 million.

Lawmakers approved Foster's deal when they convened for a session in 2002. But prior to the vote, the legislators grumbled.

For instance, state Sen. Mike Michot, R-Lafayette, said at the time that the NFL franchise should look for another market. (Now one of the governor's floor leaders, Michot has voiced support of Jindal's arrangement.)

Seven years later, legislators are once again grumbling about a governor's arrangement to keep the Saints in Louisiana.

State Rep. Michael Jackson, No Party-Baton Rouge, said he also is concerned about the administration's priorities.

"The state as a whole has much more pressing issues," he said.

Baton Rouge Rep. Honey said it seems like the administration is focusing on the Saints when there are people who need assistance.

He said higher education and health care rank higher on his radar screen than the Saints .

State Rep. Juan LaFonta, D-New Orleans, predicted that the $85 million will be the toughest hurdle in the package. It's also one of the few pieces of the deal that requires a vote of the Legislature.

State Rep. Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said some legislators mistakenly think the $85 million is going into Benson's pocket. Instead, the money is going to renovate a state-owned building, he said.

State Rep. Jonathan Perry, R-Kaplan, said he would prefer to send the money to Vermilion and Cameron parishes to help them recuperate from the hurricanes and other costly problems.

State Rep. Simone Champagne, D-Jeanerette, said she cannot support the governor's Saints proposal because of pressing needs in her district.

State officials need to address the lack of coastal protection in southwest Louisiana before giving money to a sports team, she said.

Champagne said the Saints are important to the city of New Orleans and the state. But, she said, the $85 million could be better used.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: May 3, 2009

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