Administration holds onto construction funds
Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration plans to hold back about $140 million in borrowing for construction projects legislators have deemed high priority, officials said Tuesday.
In explaining the request, Assistant Commissioner of Administration Mark Moses referenced legislators’ decision to save $106 million more of the $535 million surplus from the 2018-2019 budget year than the state constitution requires. They placed the money in a separate fund that can be used later for projects or to shore up state finances.
“We heard you during session,” Moses said. “Just because we have it doesn’t mean we need to spend it.”
The State Bond Commission, which oversees state borrowing, is scheduled to meet July 16, he said. The administration plans to recommend renewing $478 million in previously authorized lines of credit for ongoing projects and $62.5 million for six projects that have been given the go-ahead to move forward, Moses told the Joint Legislative Committee on Capital Outlay.
They also will ask for an additional $7.5 million that will give the Department of Transportation and Development a total of $30 million – half borrowed, half surplus cash – for the state’s match to a planned federal project to deepen the Mississippi River. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in February announced its intention to spend about $85 million to deepen the lower Mississippi River to 50 feet.
The approximate $548 million total is short of the $684 million in “priority 1” borrowing (usually shortened to “P1”) legislators had called for in the construction bill they approved during June’s special session. Moses said officials plan to review the projects to ensure they’re ready to move forward, rather than tie up borrowing capacity that could be used for projects that are ready to go.
Committee members also urged the administration to meet with new legislators, who may be unfamiliar with the process and deadline to submit requests, to discuss potential emergency or economic development projects. Administration officials expect to submit another list to the Bond Commission in the fall.
Moses said his office is behind schedule because the state construction bill wasn’t signed until June 26, late in the special session. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Stuart Bishop said he understood the unusual situation and would schedule another meeting of the joint committee for further discussion.
“The next time, I don’t want to hear, ‘We just need a little more time to look at it,’” Bishop said.