Legislators on the House Appropriations Committee lost some of their spirit for their New Orleans Saints this week when they learned the state is paying owner Tom Benson almost $2 million more than the market value of 323,000 square feet of space the state leases in Benson Tower, including an entire floor that’s unoccupied.
The News-Star reports many freshmen lawmakers learned about the cost for the first time this week as they grapple with budget cuts that could cripple higher education and health care.
“It was shocking to me,” said state Rep. Larry Bagley, R-Stonewall, who also owns a home in Shreveport. “To have 24,000 square feet that’s unoccupied? I don’t know of anybody in DeSoto or Caddo or Sabine parishes who has a house that big. It makes no sense.”
The lease, which was negotiated by former Gov. Bobby Jindal and approved by the Legislature in 2009, was part of a deal that keeps the Saints in Louisiana through 2025.
“It definitely alarms me,” said state Rep. Jack McFarland, R-Winnfield. “Once again it’s an example of how we’re mismanaging taxpayer dollars. How many other issues like this are out there that we don’t know about? It’s symbolic. It’s why people are so upset and have such a negative view of new taxes. That ($2 million) may not sound like much money, but it adds up. It’s enough to pay for the (Louisiana) Center for the Blind in Ruston. We’re being asked to make drastic cuts or raise massive taxes and this kind of thing exists?”
Freshman state Rep. Dustin Miller, D-Opelousas, said the report “was very shocking.”
“It’s a complete waste,” Miller said. “People want to know we’re going to be accountable for their tax dollars. This destroys credibility.”
The figures come from a 2014 Legislative Auditor’s report showing the state pays $25 per square foot ($8.1 million) annually for the Benson Tower office space, while the average going price for such office space and parking is $19 per square foot, a difference of about $1.9 million.