The Senate Education Committee of the Louisiana Legislature likely killed House Bill 780 yesterday by deferring it, after a vote to report it favorably out of the committee failed. It's doubtful that the bill can be resuscitated.
This bill would prohibit the LSU Board of Supervisors from purchasing or expropriating land for the development of their proposed new academic medical center in New Orleans without approval by the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget of its financing plan.
Representative Rick Nowlin of Natchitoches, author of the bill, took some heat from New Orleans Senator Ann Duplessis, who said she was surprised that the New Orleans delegation wasn’t consulted about this bill. He stood his ground, explaining that this was a statewide matter, and that he filed the bill only after repeated unsuccessful efforts to get financial information from LSU. Joining Rep. Nowlin was State Treasurer John Kennedy who stressed that this was a bill to prevent taking property for a public purpose without having financing in place to carry it out.
Those arguments didn’t seem to connect with the vast majority of the committee which seemed, rather, to buy the argument that this bill could delay the LSU project and cost more money. The head of state facilities planning, Jerry Jones, claimed delays would cost $160,000 a day. No one questioned this figure or how he’d arrived at it.
I testified in support of the bill along with Sandra Stokes of the Foundation for Historical Louisiana, New Orleans land-use attorney William Borah, business owner Mickey Weiser, and Committee to Save Charity Hospital’s Brad Ott.
Earlier that morning, some of us attended a rather unusual press conference at which Governor Bobby Jindal appeared along with four of the state’s past governors. It was an awkward moment for Jindal, as former governor Buddy Roemer, joined by Kathleen Blanco, Mike Foster and Dave Treen exhorted the Jindal to show some leadership and not slash state higher education funding to intolerable and destructive levels.
The moment seemed an appropriate complement to our own calls for the Governor to demonstrate leadership in the LSU hospital matter, and order a comparative cost-benefit analysis of LSU’s plans versus the alternative which would incorporate the re-use of Charity Hospital.
It is remarkable that so many in leadership positions aren’t questioning LSU’s ability to assemble a financing package of over $1 billion. In the meantime, the process of appraising and then buying out and seizing properties in Lower Mid-City can continue unhindered.