Head coach Kim Mulkey of the LSU Tigers holds the Invesco QQQ WBCA Coaches’ Trophy after defeating the Iowa Hawkeyes 102-85 during the 2023 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament championship game at American Airlines Center on April 2, 2023, in Dallas, Texas. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
LSU women’s basketball coach Kim Mulkey’s wish for a stadium renovation may be coming true this year, legislative leaders said Monday.
House Speaker Pro Tempore Rep. Tanner Magee, R-Houma, confirmed in an interview that lawmakers are considering appropriating state funds for renovations to the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, saying there’s a “50-50 chance” the money will be set aside in the state construction budget, House Bill 2.
“It’s also difficult because you’re still trying to build a library, we have all these other academic conversations going on. But on principle, I have no problem with that request,” Magee said.
How much money would come this year remains to be determined, Magee said, although he said the renovations would not get more funding than the new LSU Library this year, which is currently slated to receive $3.2 million in the current budget cycle.
That came as news to three Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee, where spending decisions in House Bill 2 originate.
LSU officials were similarly blindsided. The university did not request any money for the PMAC in its capital outlay requests to the state.
Mulkey first raised her request April 19 at LSU Day at the Capitol, an annual event during which LSU students, researchers, administrators and, yes, coaches and athletes, descend on the capitol to showcase the university. The coach, fresh off the team’s national championship victory two weeks earlier, used her moment at the microphone to request state funding for either renovating or replacing the PMAC.
“Get on [House Speaker] Clay Schexnayder and get it for us,” Mulkey told legislators in the crowd.
Magee said later that day, when Mulkey and her players waited alongside legislative leaders to go onto the House floor to be honored for their win, the ever-formidable coach grabbed the opportunity to pitch leadership on the project.
“She said that it’s a liability to the health of her players, that the condition of the PMAC has degraded to a state that safety is an actual issue,” Magee said.
House Speaker Rep. Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, said he requested an estimate on what Mulkey wanted done to the arena but has not yet heard back from university officials.
An athletics department spokesperson was not immediately able to provide details on safety problems at the arena, which was opened in 1972.
Some state leaders are skeptical about the proposal.
“I don’t blame a basketball coach for wanting the best possible basketball arena. I will tell you, for me, the biggest priority there will be is a new library,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said.
Edwards, a Democrat from Tangipahoa Parish, also home to Mulkey, said the coach did not raise the topic when he hosted her and the team at the Governor’s Mansion last week.
The governor is not alone in highlighting the state of the LSU library, which university leaders hope to replace due to its age and need for renovations.
Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Central, an outspoken iconoclast and good governance advocate, condemned the plan on Twitter.
“I won’t support a dollar for a PMAC renovation until we fund our universities critical deferred maintenance needs and a new library,” Ivey tweeted, referring to the university’s $631 million upkeep backlog.
In an interview, Ivey softened his stance, saying he would support funding for high priority needs, such as safety.
In a statement, athletics department spokesperson Cody Worsham said any improvements to the arena would be beneficial to the campus as a whole.
“Any investment we seek as an athletics department will be in alignment with President Tate’s priorities for LSU,” Worsham said. “Our shared desire is to transform the PMAC into a best-in-class facility that impacts not just our student-athletes, but our entire campus and community. We will continue to work together with our supporters and partners across the state to bring that vision to fruition in a timeframe that best benefits the university.”
Others are concerned about what would need to be cut from the state’s construction budget to make room for PMAC renovations.
Lawmakers on the House Appropriations Committee met Monday to strip Edwards’ proposed pay raises for teachers and early childhood education funding from House Bill 1, the state government budget for the fiscal year starting July 1. Republicans in the House do not want to breach the state’s expenditure cap, a constitutionally-imposed limit on spending, preferring instead to pay off debt for the state employee and teachers’ retirement systems
Lawmakers have the ability to spend beyond the limit with a two-thirds majority vote in each chamber, but House lawmakers are on track to pass a budget that falls under the cap, meaning the extra cash the governor earmarked for schools, roads and coastal restoration may not get spent.
Rep. Marcus Bryant, D-New Iberia, said in an interview he did not know whether he would support inserting funds to upgrade the PMAC into the bill without knowing what changes would be made to fit it in.
“I would have to see what they have to cut,” Bryant said, pointing to cuts made to House Bill 1 earlier in the day.
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