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Money panel agrees to state construction spending

by Associated Press

BATON ROUGE — State officials on Thursday approved a $125 million construction spending plan recommended by Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration and a borrowing plan to pay for it.

The Bond Commission approved the spending without objection and also gave preliminary support to sell up to $200 million in bonds to keep dollars flowing for the state’s ongoing construction work.

Lawmakers gave Jindal decision-making power to choose among water system upgrades, economic development initiatives and parish road work in this year’s construction budget, after packing the bill with projects costing more than three times the money the state had to spend.

Louisiana has a cap on annual borrowing that limits construction spending each year.

The state had about $126 million in capacity available for new projects in the budget year that began July 1, and $445 million in projects in the construction budget, known as the “capital outlay” bill, competing for the money.

“We’re trying to provide the needed funds at the correct times to advance the project,” said Mark Moses, director of the Jindal administration’s facility planning office, which oversees state-funded construction work.

The projects are paid with dollars borrowed through bond sales to investors, paid off over years with interest. The Bond Commission voted to move forward with a $200 million bond sale in mid-November to replenish the state’s capital-outlay escrow account.

Moses said the state is spending about $45 million to $50 million on its ongoing construction work, with about $430 million in the escrow account earlier this month.

The over-packing of the construction budget bill left the Jindal administration to sift through the options and forward its favored list of projects to the Bond Commission for lines of credit. Critics of that method say it gives the governor the ability to use projects to reward or punish legislators for their votes.

The list approved Thursday includes dollars for state economic development projects, improvements at state parks, highway upgrades, repairs at juvenile lock-up facilities and construction work on university campuses.

Also included in the plan were dozens of lawmakers’ pet projects for their local districts, including money for a livestock pavilion in Jackson Parish, a senior center in Jefferson Parish, a library in St. Helena Parish, courthouse renovations in Webster Parish and restrooms at a local recreation area along Lake Pontchartrain in St. Tammany Parish.

Certain types of local projects require a funding match so the state isn’t picking up the full cost of the construction work.

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