Waiting on HB2

Louisiana’s annual construction bill is expected to be read into the House later today, kicking off a process that is just as riddled with unanswered questions as the state’s operating budget. Drafted by the Edwards Administration, hopes for new brick-and-mortar projects are being kept in check.

Still, lawmakers are tracking local projects that have been navigating the capital outlay process over the past few years. But as of this afternoon, most legislators had no idea what was going to be included in HB 2, the instrument traditional used to carry construction efforts found across the state.

"Nothing in it yet," said Rep. Jim Morris when asked about the progress this morning. Morris is the vice chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which gets first crack at the legislation.

Making his way around the ground floor of the Capitol around the same time, Rep. Ted James remarked, "I haven’t seen anything with capital outlay yet."

Not that anyone is expected a big bump in construction projects. Administration officials contend that the shortfall for the 2018-19 fiscal year — somewhere between $500 million and $1 billion, depending on who you ask — has played into their drafting of the proposal. "This is a very austere bill," said Richard Carbo, the governor’s deputy chief of staff. "We are limited in what we can do."

With the state’s ongoing budgetary problems, pickings have become slim in recent sessions for lawmakers looking to bring new construction projects back to their districts. This legislative year is unlikely to be the exception.

"I don’t know if we are going to be able to fund many more new projects," said Rep. Barry Ivey, adding that the backlog of projects approved in recent sessions has restricted what the Legislature can do to address current priorities. "The ongoing nature of these projects take up the majority of the funding."

Ivey maintained, from his perspective, that the Comite River diversion project is still the top priority for the Baton Rouge region in the capital outlay process. "Everything else pales in comparison," he said.

Officials with the Edwards Administration say that while they have included some funding for the Comite diversion in this year’s bill, they hope to also address the matter through other means of revenue as well.

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