Lafayette’s state budget haul shovels millions into I-49, flood protection, UL and a new performing arts center

Signs on the Evangeline Thruway pointing toward I-49
Photo by Robin May

Barring line-item vetoes, Lafayette Parish, its municipalities and public institutions stand to benefit from tens of millions of dollars, perhaps more, from the $39 billion state budget bill for FY 2023 and the capital outlay bill the Legislature passed late last week.

Lafayette has powerful representation come budget season, counting the Senate president and the capital outlay bill’s author in its legislative delegation. Among the topline allocations are another $100 million down payment on the decades-old I-49 Connector project, a business lobby priority, and $25 million for a Heymann Performing Arts Center replacement; Lafayette Consolidated Government had requested $75 million.

Here’s a list of the major projects winnowed into next year’s spending:

  • $233 million for completing I-49 South to New Orleans, including the Lafayette Connector
  • $94 million for construction projects at UL Lafayette
  • $35 million for the Bayou Vermilion Flood Control project, which is mired in two major lawsuits (Homewood and the spoil banks removal in St. Martin Parish)
  • $24 million for a new performing arts center to replace the Heymann Center
  • $20 million for Louisiana highway interchange improvements in the parish
  • $11 million for Cajundome improvements
  • $7.9 million for Moncus Park
  • $6.5 million for the Lafayette Metropolitan Expressway loop planning and construction
  • $6 million for the Lafayette Parish Courthouse complex planning and construction

There is a hitch: Several of these amounts include funding from general obligation bonds, and some of those carry a Priority 5 designation, meaning money can’t be spent without approval of the State Bond Commission. In practice, that means the money could go unspent and often carries over into future budgets. 

For example, only $1 million for the performing arts complex is Priority 1, $23 million is Priority 5 and not a penny was earmarked from the General Fund.

For I-49 South, $127 million of the almost $233 million is tagged Priority 5, but $100 million would come from the Louisiana Rescue Plan Fund, cash that’s immediately available, and $2,461,000 from Priority 1 bonds. Nearly all of that money will go to completing the Lafayette Connector project, according to state Transportation Secretary Shawn Wilson. Around $3.5 million would come from the General Fund, with the provision that it be spent for utilities relocation in the Ambassador Caffery interchange.

Of the $35 million for the Bayou Vermilion Flood Control project, $22 million would come from the General Fund, $3 million form Priority 1 bonds and $10 million from Priority 5. The budget line refers to a set of four projects said to address flooding from the Vermilion River, including the $60 million Homewood Regional Detention Ponds, the largest detention facility Lafayette has ever built. Homewood was halted by a court order in April after a judge ruled Lafayette Consolidated Government unlawfully seized private land to build it. 

The 2023 fiscal year begins July 1.

Homewood Regional Detention Project
LCG has worked for months on the Homewood Detention Pond project north of Milton. A district judge ruled May 4 that LCG improperly seized the land and ordered it to cease work on the site.

An amended version of the budget bill, HB1 by Rep. Jerome Zeringue, R-Houma, was approved unanimously Wednesday, and the House concurred in the Senate amendments, 88-7.

One of the seven House naysayers was Rep. Julie Emerson, R-Carencro.

“After living through the Legislature and budget cuts in 2016, I have concerns about the rate and amount of spending in this year’s budget. I think [Appropriations Committee] Chairman Zeringue spent responsibly with the increased revenue he had for this year, but my objection is the sustainability in the years to come,” Emerson told Straight News Online by text.

The capital outlay bill, HB2 by Rep. Stuart Bishop, R-Lafayette, chairman of Ways and Means, passed both houses unanimously, the Senate on Wednesday and the House on Thursday.

“I was overall satisfied with what my district received — Carencro, Scott and Cankton,” Emerson said.

With good reason. Carencro was awarded $4.6 million for planning and construction of a Priority 1 wastewater facility and $480,000 for a Priority 1 coulee from I-49 to Gloria Switch Road.

Scott was granted more than $4.1 million for the Eraste Landry Extension; $3.7 million for LA 93 roadway improvements; and $2.5 million for water and sewer line installation along the Apollo Road extension. However, only about 10% of all three projects is Priority 1 and 90% is Priority 5.

In the budget bill, which authorizes day-to-day operating expenses for state departments and educational and other institutions, UL Lafayette received an appropriation of $195 million, just 0.8% above last year’s. South Louisiana Community College was appropriated $34.5 million, an increase of 2.8%. By way of contrast, LSU’s appropriation for FY2023 is $686.1 million.

The Legislature approved spending for six major ongoing or planned projects on the UL campus:

  • $27.1 million for the new engineering classroom building, $12 million from fees and self-generated revenues, $7.2 million from Priority 1 bonds and $ 7.9 million from Priority 5
  • $23.2 million for a joint UL/LSU health care education and training facility, $10 million of which would come from fees and self-generated revenues, $ 5.7 million from Priority 1 bonds and $7.5 million from Priority 5 bonds
  • $18 million for Madison Hall renovations, $6 million of which is from Priority 1 bonds and $12 million from Priority 5
  • $16.5 million for a kinesiology, hospitality management and athletic complex, $14.5 million from Priority 5 bonds, $500,000 from Priority 2 and $1.5 million from fees and self-generated revenues
  • $5 million for DeClouet Hall renovation, $4.5 million of which is Priority 5, $375,000 is Priority 1 and just $125,000 directly from the General Fund
  • $4.5 million for Foster Hall renovation, $4 million of which is Priority 5 and $500,000 is Priority 1.

HB2 also has a stipulation that $8 million of the $12 million approved for land acquisition for post-secondary educational institutions be used to purchase the old Our Lady of Lourdes hospital complex on St. Landry Street. It would be paid out of the Capital Outlay Fund.

Of the $20.25 million for interchange improvements — the bureaucratic euphemism for roundabouts — to state highways in the parish, $15.25 million would come from the Capital Outlay Savings Fund and $5 million from Priority 5 bonds.

The Cajundome and Convention Center will receive $4.8 million directly from the General Fund for air quality improvements and $6.4 million from Priority 5 bonds.

The Lafayette Economic Development Authority received $6.8 million allocated for plans to support small businesses and entrepreneurship. LEDA just opened a new Downtown location for the Opportunity Machine business incubator, financed with state dollars, while the Lafayette Airport Commission was allocated an additional $1.9 million of Priority 1 funds toward the new terminal construction.

Of the $6.5 million for the metropolitan loop project planning and construction, $4 million is Priority 1 and $2.5 million is Priority 5.

For Moncus Park, $3.3 million is Priority 1 and $4.6 million is Priority 5.

As for other municipalities in the parish, fast-growing Youngsville was the beneficiary of five road improvement projects, almost all Priority 5. However, of the $9 million for the LA 89 improvements, $5.6 million is Priority 1 and $ 3.3 million is Priority 5.

The engrossed bills now rest with Gov. John Bel Edwards. The Republican-controlled Legislature pushed them through much earlier than last year, apparently to get them to Edwards with more than 10 days remaining in the session so they could attempt to override any vetoes before the session ends June 6. Edwards has to sign them or make any vetoes within 10 days of their passage.

The Republicans have 68 members in the 105-member House, two votes short of the two thirds needed to override unless they can pick them up from the three independents. Republicans have exactly two thirds in the Senate, 27 of 39; the Democrats have only 11 with the resignation of Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, on April 8.