Nucor puts brakes on some spending

Published 11:53 pm Thursday, October 14, 2010

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration is proposing to scrap a list of lawmaker-approved construction plans for this year to pull together $30 million for Nucor’s planned iron and steel plant in St. James Parish.

A top Jindal budget adviser, Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater, submitted the administration’s recommendations for state construction spending Thursday to the Bond Commission. It must agree to the plans before they can begin.

Not making the cut were a training academy for state police, a new dormitory at LSU’s fire and emergency training institute, state museum upgrades, road work and an array of projects favored by lawmakers for their local districts, a review by The Associated Press shows.

Email newsletter signup

“I’m certain that if I talked to everyone of these legislators, these are important projects for their area,” said Rep. Hunter Greene, R-Baton Rouge, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee who handles the construction budget in the House.

Greene said lawmakers are questioning whether Nucor should get dollars that usually go to public entities, particularly when there are untapped economic development funds that could be used for the steel plant spending.

The Jindal administration deliberations for choosing “capital outlay” projects were done behind closed doors. A request for comment Thursday from Rainwater’s office wasn’t immediately returned.

The Bond Commission will consider the spending plans next week.

Greene said he’s already hearing from lawmakers whose projects didn’t win administration backing and who are questioning what criteria Jindal’s office used to pick and choose.

“When you look at it, you see things that are on the list that made it that are very similar to ones that didn’t make the cut,” Greene said.

Louisiana has a cap on annual borrowing that will limit spending on construction projects to an estimated $320 million in the current 2010-11 budget year.

Lawmakers had passed the budget with just enough projects to eat up all the available cash. But Louisiana Economic Development Secretary Stephen Moret asked to shuffle the budget around and use $30 million for Nucor, as part of the state’s incentive package for the company.

The planned iron and steel facility is one of Louisiana’s biggest industrial deals ever. Once complete, the project could total $3.4 billion and create 1,250 jobs.

Rainwater’s office is proposing to move some unspent money from the last budget year to help fill part of the gap caused by the Nucor spending. But about $23 million in projects were shut out of the spending plans recommended by the Jindal administration.

If approved by the Bond Commission, the state agriculture department will get $3.3 million instead of the $6 million it had planned for an animal disease diagnostic lab. New Orleans City Park won’t receive $300,000 for tennis center improvements. LSU’s plans to renovate old engineering shops for the art department won’t get $1.1 million. A $2 million project to connect a highway with Interstate 10 in West Baton Rouge Parish won’t move forward.

A slew of local projects were left on the cutting room floor as well, including money for courthouse renovations in Franklin and Tangipahoa parishes, drainage improvements in Jefferson Parish and Abbeville, a Plaquemines Parish sports complex, road work in Tangipahoa and Washington parishes, an animal shelter in Washington Parish, an evacuation shelter in Donaldsonville, a children’s museum in New Orleans, a walking and bike trail in eastern New Orleans, equipment for the Gretna Police Department, recreational complexes and museums.

In past administrations, lawmakers regularly overloaded the construction budget and let the governor’s office chose what projects received money, but lawmakers and Jindal had worked to change that.

“I don’t like to see the cuts because what we tried to do for the last three years is have a bill that if the bill gets passed by the Legislature, that is what gets funded,” Greene said.