Giant spending bill clears House panel as typical pet projects are left out, sponsor says | Legislature

Though the state has about $2.7 billion extra to spend, a House committee Monday advanced a construction spending bill with none of the frills that lawmakers come to expect for their home districts when the money is flush in Baton Rouge.

“There are no splash pads. There are no baseball parks. There are no golf courses,” said Rep. Stuart Bishop, the Lafayette Republican who chairs the House Committee on Ways & Means. “This is about roads, ports, airports, bridges. And that was always my number one obligation.”

House Bill 2 authorizes agencies to seek loans through bonds and lists 103 pages of construction projects, worth about $7 billion, then ranks the plans by priority.

The measure assigns $1.1 billion of work to its top priority, which means those projects – such as $1.6 million to upgrade showers for the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola – likely will receive money during the fiscal year. The governor’s office and the Bond Commission must agree to seek loans through state-secured bonds to pay for construction.

Another roughly $100 million was authorized for projects to receive money, if there’s any left over. And about $3.3 billion was put in line for money in future years.

“We have worked tirelessly, as you can tell by my eyes, but I think this is the most fiscally responsible bill I can bring before y’all,” Bishop told Ways & Means members. “I have only one project in my district, and it’s worth less than a million dollars.”

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Bishop added 130 amendments to 103-page original bill – adding some projects, upgrading or downgrading others.

For instance, a roundabout at Joe Sevario Road on La. Hwy. 42 just north of Prairieville had $2.5 million of its funding reconfigured to provide access to $2.7 million this year, if the Bond Commission approves. And the Vermilion Parish Police Jury will receive $680,000, that it wasn’t initially in line to receive, for road improvements. He also moved the first tranche of funding for a $3.6 million project to repaint the USS Kidd to a lower spending priority, which likely will delay work. The World War II destroyer is the centerpiece of a Baton Rouge museum and memorial to war dead from Louisiana.

“I can’t make everybody happy,” Bishop said, but he tried to make sure all the legislators had at least one project in their districts.

Because a lot of lawmakers were disappointed, Bishop said he doesn’t expect HB2 to stay the same during its progress through the Legislature.

The measure goes next to the House and will be referred to the Appropriations Committee that will check the spending and add some of the surplus dollars. Then the bill returns to the House floor for a vote by the 105-member chamber. If approved, the legislation moves across Memorial Hall for a similar review by Senate committees and the full chamber of 39 senators.

The final version of HB2, which will legally allow the spending for the fiscal year starting July 1, likely will be hammered out behind closed doors. Then the final list will be put before both chambers again in the waning of the session that ends June 6.

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