With less than two weeks remaining in the regular session, lawmakers still aren’t any closer to formulating a plan to pay the state’s $90 million share for upgrades to the Superdome. But there’s much more than money at stake on this issue.
The money debate has revealed ancient legislative dividing lines pitting urban lawmakers, who preach the value of New Orleans and the Saints, versus rural lawmakers, who argue the entire state shouldn’t be on the hook for the expenses of one crescent-shaped city.
The issue also shows how power has shifted in the Louisiana Legislature between the current term and the last, especially in the Orleans region. Half of the delegation is made up of first-termers and several influential players are gone, namely former Senate President John Alario of Westwego. As such, rural lawmakers increasingly believe that if the New Orleans delegation wants something, they’re going to have to fight it out like everyone else.
Rep. Royce Duplessis, D-New Orleans, noted in an interview last week that the Saints are putting up $150 million and the dome’s management district is bankrolling $210 million. The partners are two years into the remodeling job, which has a $450 million budget. Gov. John Bel Edwards and the legislative leadership from last term negotiated the deal two years ago with Bond Commission approval, and now Duplessis and others are worried the current legislative leadership won’t deliver on the state’s $90 million share. “I recognize there is some heartburn to get this done, but I have faith that we’ll all see the bigger picture and the economic development impact,” Duplessis says.
Lawmakers are not walking away from the challenge, according to Appropriations Chairman Zee Zeringue, R-Houma. There may be other ways to satisfy the $90 million obligation and those alternatives are being explored, he says, like having the Saints use revenue from naming or television rights. “We’re working on it, but coming up with a $90 million cash payment, that’s going to be difficult for the chamber to find that allocation,” Zeringue says.
The issue could end up back on a Bond Commission agenda as soon as next month, but for now the matter is still being negotiated. Treasurer John Schroder is part of those talks and is hopeful. “The conversation between the legislators not from New Orleans and those from New Orleans, I don’t know if that will result in doing what’s best for the state,” Schroder says. “I understand the anxiety on both sides, I just hope the baby doesn’t get thrown out with the bathwater.”
They said it: “It’s ironic to me that we have a building full of men who are going to decide what the best course of action is for a pregnant woman.”—Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, on legislation accommodating pregnant workers.