When Louisiana lawmakers approved $ 2.4 million for Odyssey House Louisiana in the state’s construction budget last month, executives at the nonprofit drug treatment provider felt it was sure to resume renovations to its Treme campus.
First work on one of the campus’s century-old buildings came to a halt last September, and Odyssey House, which contracts with the state to provide services to the poor in New Orleans, was in need of funding. to start a new medical clinic.
The organization paid for the architectural plans, assuming it would recoup the fees once the State Bond Commission re-authorized a cash line of credit at its August 19 meeting.
But then something unexpected happened. The Bond Commission, without explanation, voted last week to freeze the money for an additional month. Odyssey House can’t hire a contractor until the Bonds Commission approves the funding, said Ed Carlson, the organization’s chief executive.
“My concern is the safety of our customers. The building is collapsing. If I have a floor collapse, or part of a ceiling collapse, and I have to leave the building, they won’t be able to get any service there, ”Carlson said.
The Odyssey House renovation was among 16 projects in New Orleans that the Republican-led Bond Commission postponed by a 12-2 vote. It was an unusual move for a relatively obscure body whose approval is required for government bond sales and lines of credit once spending has been authorized by the legislature.
Commissioners and others said they expected funding to be approved next month. But the move raised concerns about the potential for partisan political use of an organization whose purpose is to ensure that the technical aspects of government funding are carried out according to the law.
“As far as I can remember, we have never reauthorized these projects when they come up,” said Administration Commissioner Jay Dardenne, who sits on the committee and voted to approve the funding. “They represent ongoing projects, bills that have been incurred and new work that needs to begin.
Among the projects whose funding was delayed last week included a dental school at LSU Health Sciences Center, a rooftop for the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts and a City Park water park. About two-thirds of the total amount of funding was spent on projects with the Port of New Orleans. Two funding lines for the ongoing Caesars Superdome renovation project have also been frozen.
Thursday’s vote followed a demand by Attorney General Jeff Landry that lawmakers suspend all public funding related to the New Orleans Saints until the team agrees to reimburse season ticket holders who do not want to. not comply with the city’s new vaccination mandate for indoor entertainment venues.
The timing of the Bond Commission meeting provided a practical opportunity to follow up. Landry sits on the commission along with other elected Republican heads of state, such as Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser, Senate Speaker Page Cortez, and House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, as well as other legislators.
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry is unhappy with the New Orleans Saints’ policy regarding withdrawals or potential refunds of season tickets …
On the agenda this month, $ 2.9 million for continued improvements to Caesar’s Superdome and $ 25 million for future work. Shortly before the vote, the Saints changed course and announced they would offer refunds. But the Bond Commission still set aside millions of dollars for the New Orleans projects.
A single project outside of New Orleans has been postponed, raising questions about whether the New Orleans snub was a political return on investment following Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s decision to impose coronavirus vaccines or recent negative test results for the Superdome as well as bars, restaurants and other venues in the city.
Amid the ruckus, State Representative Jerome Zeringue R-Houma, who sits on the Bond Commission, insisted the city’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate was not the ‘main’ reason of the postponement vote.
Cantrell reprimanded Friday, calling the vote “shameful.”
“I think it’s misleading for what New Orleans means to the state of Louisiana. We’re the backbone of the state, ”Cantrell said, though she also thanked the commission for coming forward with $ 275 million for sewer and water board upgrades.
Zeringue, who also chairs the House appropriations committee, alluded to the “budget” concerns of other House members when he explained why he voted to delay projects. He did not specify what those concerns were. Zeringue said he expects the commission to approve the plans at its September 16 meeting.
One of the projects, a behavioral health center at the children’s hospital, was completed and opened a year and a half ago, according to the hospital. Asked about new concerns from lawmakers about a completed building, Zeringue said “it is not complete until all the building requirements and everything have been completed.”
“You have to go through the project, make sure the engineers and everyone are following the building codes and any standards that were designed,” Zeringue said.
Bond Commission spokeswoman Michelle Millhollon said the commission “does not manage projects” in response to a question of whether staff are dealing with design specifications and building codes. She said that the management of the project is left to the administrative services.
Some New Orleans Democrats fear the vote will set a precedent by using the Bond Commission for political revenge.
“It’s so dangerous and harmful for them to do this. Things are not linked at all, ”said Rep. Mandie Landry, referring to the vaccine’s mandate and construction funding. “Punishing our city for trying to really protect us makes me really nervous. “
A prominent Republican, Pro Tempore House Speaker Tanner Magee de Houma, who is not on the committee, admitted the vote was unusually politicized. But he argued that governors politicized the commission for decades by deciding which projects would be on meeting agendas.
It’s hard to believe that Jeff Landry played football at St. Martinville High School. Because he clearly doesn’t know how to stay on his side of the line.
While Magee has said he doesn’t want the Bond Commission to be used to punish anyone, he endorsed the idea of commissioners with greater oversight. He supported the suspension of funding for the Superdome to ensure reimbursement for unvaccinated season ticket holders.
“We are not taking power that does not belong to us. We are using a power that we have never used before. It’s not wrong, ”Magee said.