Cars sit parked near the Pete Maravich Assembly Center on March 20, 2023, on LSU’s campus in Baton Rouge. (Photo by Matthew Perschall)
Because of an improper appropriation, LSU’s plans to upgrade the Pete Maravich Assembly Center will get started with significantly less funding than anticipated. But just how the inappropriate expense got in the state budget remains a mystery.
In a buzzer-beater addition to the state construction budget, approved June 8 in the final minutes of the legislative session, state lawmakers allocated $1 million in cash to the Tiger Athletic Foundation for the “PMAC Enhancement Project,” in addition to $50 million in fees and self-generated revenues and another $50 million in the lowest priority category of state funding. Legislators would need to appropriate the money in a higher priority category in the future before it could be delivered.
But as Gov. John Bel Edwards pointed out on his radio show last week, sending fees and self-generated revenue to a non-state entity is illegal.
“That particular line item is a problem, not not because it’s not a worthy project, but because of the way that was done,” Edwards said. “I think it was done in conference committee, and I think it was done too hasty.”
Despite making overtures toward rejecting the project, Edwards kept it in the bill, despite having the authority to remove it in a line-item veto. He pointed out that, despite the problems with the illegal appropriation, there’s also $5 million in another funding bill for the project.
In an interview, Edwards told the Illuminator he kept the appropriations in the bill so the Tiger Athletic Foundation would still get the cash to begin planning the project.
The inclusion of the project came as another major victory for LSU women’s basketball coach Kim Mulkey, who lobbied legislators after her team’s national championship win. LSU Athletics spokesperson Cody Worsham said the department has not yet decided whether it will replace the Pete Maravich Assembly Center or renovate it.
In an interview, Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, Edwards’ budget chief, said despite its inclusion in the approved version of the bill, the Tiger Athletic Foundation would not receive the $50 million in fees and self-generated revenues. Dardenne explained that in order for the project to receive those funds, the project would have to be included in the bill as an university project, which would allow it to receive fees and self-generated revenue and non-cash state funding without the 25% match requirement for non-state entities.
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The question of how an illegal appropriation got into the state construction budget remains.
House Speaker Pro Tempore Tanner Magee, R-Houma, is the only member of the six-legislator panel to negotiate the differences between the House and Senate budget plans to take credit for the project. Lawmakers aren’t responsible for the language to send $50 million in fees and self-generated revenue for the Tiger Athletic Foundation, he said.
The language was presented to lawmakers by somebody advocating for the project on behalf of the university, according to Magee, who could not recall who it was.
Several LSU administrators, members of its Board of Supervisors and other university affiliates have been in contact with legislators asking for support for the project since the idea first came up in April, Magee said. The project was not included in the university’s capital outlay priorities and therefore not in the original version of the bill.
Rep. Stuart Bishop, R-Lafayette, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, which handles the state construction budget, did not respond to a request for comment on the project.
Neither did an LSU athletics department spokesperson, members of the university’s government relations team or a lobbyist representing the LSU Foundation, which hires lobbyists to advocate for the university’s priorities. The Tiger Athletic Foundation does not have any registered lobbyists.
Edwards called the inappropriate funding a mistake. The bundle of budget bills were released to legislators just minutes before they were asked to vote on them in the final 30 minutes of the session, leading to anger and confusion over funds removed from the bill.
Due to the confusion, Edwards said he reached out to LSU athletics director Scott Woodward after he was unexpectedly asked about the project during his radio show.
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