BATON ROUGE, Louisiana (AP) – Louisiana legislative leaders on Thursday balked at a $ 63 million debt cancellation plan for the Superdome supervisory board that Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration touted as a key part of reaching a new deal with the New Orleans Saints.
The Bond Commission’s discussion of this proposal and other ideas for channeling state money toward Superdome renovations did not yield any resolution. It is still unclear whether state lawmakers will pay for Edwards’ pledge that Louisiana will cover $ 90 million of the $ 450 million stadium improvements.
Treasurer John Schroder appeared exasperated over whether the legislature would agree to fund some of the renovations that have not been resolved after more than two years since the Democratic governor made the deal public.
“It’s decision time,” said the Republican treasurer, who chairs the Bond Commission. Superdome managers “have to be able to plan. We have to give them an answer.
So far, the state has committed around $ 3 million for Superdome upgrades, with an additional $ 25 million authorized – but unsecured – through the state’s construction budget.
A contract for the next phases of the construction work “cannot be signed without some certainty on a source of income,” said administration commissioner Jay Dardenne, chief budget advisor to the governor.
The Edwards administration proposes that $ 63 million come from the forgiveness of unpaid debts owed by the supervisory board of the Superdome, the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District. The Bond Commission is expected to approve this debt relief, and Cortez and other commission lawmakers are reluctant to the idea.
Cortez said he believes the debt cancellation will set a bad precedent. But he hasn’t completely closed the door to finding an approach to fund the Superdome renovations, and he said he wants the Saints to stay in Louisiana.
“I want to work to solve this problem,” said the president of the Senate.
He said he struggled to get information from the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District on funding for the first completed phases of the Superdome renovations and that he did not understand the state’s urgency to pay $ 90 million. dollars when there were other funds available.
“I don’t have the relevant facts,” Cortez said.
The Superdome improvement plan calls for the state to cover $ 90 million for renovations, the Saints to pay $ 150 million, and the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District to pay $ 210 million.
The $ 450 million improvements to the iconic stadium in downtown New Orleans, nearly 50 years old, with expanded levels of clubs and suites, new concession stands, observation decks and other improvements, were part of a plan to keep the Saints in New Orleans until 2055.
“Their lease depends on it,” said Dardenne.
The state’s current lease with the NFL team expires in 2025, although Saints owner Gayle Benson has pledged she intends to keep the club in New Orleans for the long term.
Louisiana sits on a massive state surplus, as well as billions of dollars in unspent federal pandemic aid. Some of this money could be used for stadium improvements. But Dardenne said making a legislative decision next year on whether to spend those dollars on the Superdome would take too long and could disrupt construction plans.
Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District debt dates back to 2013, when the state refinanced an earlier loan used to restore the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina. The district makes annual payments on debt to the state until 2039.
Dardenne hopes the Bond Commission will back the idea of debt cancellation in November. The Edwards administration, Cortez and other lawmakers have said they will meet on the issue ahead of next month’s meeting.
But several legislative leaders have questioned whether the state should pay for the stadium improvements. Rep. Stuart Bishop, a Republican from Lafayette, suggested he thought the public would rather the state spend millions on road works than “better suites in the Superdome.”