BATON ROUGE — Gov. John Bel Edwards stripped $44 million in projects from the state’s multiyear construction budget, saying Tuesday that Louisiana can’t afford them amid its continuing financial struggles.
Twenty-five projects were struck from the bill by the governor before he signed it, including money for LSU Eunice, Louisiana Tech University, a recreational complex in Iberia Parish, natural gas system improvements in Grant Parish, renovations to a New Orleans playground, roadwork in Caldwell Parish and water system improvements in Columbia.
The two largest items cut from the construction budget were $15 million for a road project in the city of Scott and $11 million for an arts district in St. Tammany Parish. Both projects are in areas with Republican lawmakers who voted against some of the governor’s tax proposals in two special sessions aimed at raising more money for the state budget.
The Democratic governor has sought to shrink the size of the construction budget, known as the capital outlay bill. In a statement, Edwards said he wanted to “be realistic with the limited financial resources we have at our disposal.”
“For too long, the capital outlay process gave false hope to the people of Louisiana that construction dollars were on the way when, in fact, they were not. I’ve promised to budget openly and honestly with the people of Louisiana, and this capital outlay bill is representative of that approach,” he said.
But even with the vetoes, the construction budget still contains more projects than Louisiana can afford.
The budget bill was the final piece of legislation from the recently-ended special session that was awaiting Edwards’ decision.
The $4.4 billion, multiyear budget contains $1.6 billion in projects with cash earmarked for them, like federal and state highway dollars that pay for road and bridge work. Another $2.8 billion in projects are slated to be financed with state borrowing through bond sales.
Louisiana is so over-committed in projects financed with borrowing it would take years to pay for everything with state lines of credit. Meanwhile, the state also faces stricter limits for the next few years on how much money it can borrow because of its financial problems.
Bond-financed projects that weren’t vetoed still aren’t assured to receive money because the budget bill contains more items than available money. The State Bond Commission will vote on which ones advance, largely based on the governor’s recommendations.
Edwards wants to steer the limited money available mainly to port improvements, roadwork and a backlog of deferred maintenance on state-owned and college campus buildings.