Stimulus road money up for vote in Lousiana legslature

Published 12:08 am Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Jindal administration on Wednesday will again try to get legislative backing for a plan to spend Louisiana’s first dollars from the federal stimulus package, about $300 million, for road and bridge work.

The top leader in the state Senate, however, said he’ll recommend that lawmakers only approve a portion of the spending while they await further details from Gov. Bobby Jindal about how much of a multimillion dollar state surplus Jindal wants to spend on road projects.

The joint House and Senate budget committee, which must approve the spending plans before the work can begin, plans to review the transportation proposal at a Wednesday afternoon meeting. Though lawmakers had previously complained of his absence, Jindal said he won’t make a personal pitch to the committee.

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‘‘Certainly, the ball is in their court. We’re fine with them making changes as long as they meet the federal criteria,’’ the governor said Tuesday.

But he warned that any additions or deletions lawmakers want to make to the list need to be done quickly. He said the state needs to get a list of transportation projects to federal officials by March 19.

Rather than approve the full list, Senate President Joel Chaisson said he’ll recommend that the committee approve enough of the spending to meet the federal requirement that half the money be obligated within 120 days.

‘‘We can’t delay any further on those projects because of the federal timelines. The others, we have a little bit more time to look at our priorities,’’ said Chaisson, D-Destrehan.

For the rest of the stimulus transportation money, Chaisson said he’ll suggest the committee delay again until lawmakers get more details about how much of an $865 million state surplus the governor wants to pump into highway projects.

Lawmakers stalled the stimulus proposal two weeks ago when the governor was getting prominent national attention for his opposition to parts of the stimulus. That was in the days leading up to Jindal’s delivery of the Republican response to President Barack Obama’s address to Congress.

Legislators complained they had too little time to review the list and no say in choosing the highway projects. Several also complained of Jindal’s stance on the stimulus.

State Transportation and Development Secretary William Ankner wouldn’t say Tuesday whether he’ll present the same list to lawmakers they refused last time.

‘‘We are working on the issue. That’s it. I can’t give anything more definitive at this time,’’ Ankner said.

Senators were responsible for stymieing the proposal last month.

Chaisson said his recommendation — to approve some projects now and delay others — would take into account the concerns of committee members who worried their districts weren’t getting any road or bridge projects.

Chaisson refused to characterize his proposal as a bargaining tool to get more information from the administration. But he said lawmakers deserved to know if highway projects they felt were important could get surplus money if they don’t get stimulus money.

‘‘I think it’s a fair compromise,’’ Chaisson said. ‘‘We will meet all deadlines. We’re not going to do anything to jeopardize our ability to receive and spend this federal money.’’

After lawmakers delayed approval of the project list, Ankner said he worried the delay could jeopardize the state’s ability to meet the federal deadlines for spending the aid and could cause the state to lose some of its stimulus allocation.

The biggest ticket items on the previous transportation department list were $76 million for Interstate 10 work in the New Orleans suburb of Jefferson Parish, $72 million for an I-10 widening project in Baton Rouge, $42 million for I-49 North to Arkansas and $36 million to replace the Larose Bridge in Lafourche Parish.