Before voting to withhold potential financing in years to come, the Louisiana Bond Commission approved a $32 million cash line of credit for the same Sewerage and Water Board project. (Getty Images/Canva)
Attorney General Jeff Landry had called upon the Louisiana Bond Commission to withhold its approval of financing for select New Orleans projects after city leaders declared they would not enforce the state’s abortion law. When the commission met Thursday, its members made what was largely a symbolic vote to deny a non-cash request for which actual money would not have been available any sooner than 2023.
Before that vote, the 14-member, Republican-heavy panel approved cash lines of credit for a long slate of local projects in the state’s capital outlay budget. It includes $32.7 million from the state capital outlay budget for the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans to build a new power plant.
Shortly afterward, Landry’s designee on the commission, Assistant AG Emily Andrews, asked members to exclude $106 million designated for the power plant from a long list of “Priority 5” projects submitted for reauthorization.
“I would love to have New Orleans come to the next meeting and explain their position of why they feel it is acceptable to adopt a formal policy that says they will not comply in any way shape or form with state law” banning abortions, Andrews said.
Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, who sits on the Bond Commission with other legislative leaders, said Priority 5 status means the project won’t be submitted for financing for at least another year. He said lawmakers typically don’t sort out which projects get top priority in the upcoming budget until a month or so before session.
“So the delaying of a (Priority) 5, for all practical purposes, doesn’t stop the process,” Cortez said.
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Commission member Jay Dardenne, Gov. John Bel Edwards’ top administrator, questioned why Andrews would block the Priority 5 project after approving $32.7 million for the Sewerage and Water Board in its Priority 1 allotment just moments earlier.
“It’s ridiculous the way it’s been presented that this one project is going to be the scapegoat that’s going to be held hostage in order to satisfy everybody that they’ve made a politically correct vote. It just doesn’t make any sense,” Dardenne said.
He moved to approve the $106 million reauthorization, an amount originally authorized last year, but the commission voted it down 2-12. Matthew Block, the governor’s executive counsel and panel appointee, was the only member who voted with Dardenne.
Treasurer John Schroder, who chairs the Bond Commission, said he has had issues with the priority system in the state capital outlay process going back to his time in the Legislature. But he was reluctant to have the panel debate policy outside of fiscal matters. Describing himself as “about as staunch pro-life as anybody has in this state,” Schroder said his role on the bond commission is not to defy the intent of the Legislature, which included the Sewerage and Water Board project in the state construction budget.
The treasurer also pointed out that the attorney general did not object when there was open defiance of the mask mandate during peaks of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Clearly, people were not following the law, which was set down by the governor, and the attorney general approved that,” Schroder said.
The treasurer asked the assistant attorney general if New Orleans officials could be prosecuted under malfeasance in office laws. Andrews declined to respond, explaining that her expertise is in municipal law, not criminal code, though she said the Bond Commission does have the power to fiscally punish a municipality that does not abide by state law.
She also said the law “requires them to take proactive conduct,” without explaining what such actions would entail.
“The fact that they’re not doing anything is the violation,” Andrews said. “And they didn’t just say it, they adopted a formal policy that said they will not enforce the law, and they won’t cooperate with any state agency.”
Schroder, who noted his background in law enforcement, challenged that stance.
“This is a bad, bad road to get on,” he said, “because then you start crossing over my duties as a treasurer, the attorney general’s duties, the governor’s duties and everybody else’s duties. I just don’t like it.”
When Dardenne’s motion was voted on, Schroder opposed it. There was no opposition to Andrews’ motion approve all other Priority 5 reauthorizations on the agenda.
Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, who also sits on the Bond Commission, had the day’s harshest words for New Orleans’ elected leaders. He, too, approved all Priority 1 funding for the city but joined the majority in opposition to the Priority 5 reauthorization for the Sewerage and Water Board.
“This is called anarchy,” Ardoin said, “to, as a governmental body, decide you’re not going to abide by the laws passed by the state of Louisiana and signed into an act by the governor of the state of Louisiana. In my opinion, they should all be impeached. This is wrong, and that’s the message that I send to New Orleans.”
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