Funds for new Heymann, new jail added in state budget

Image courtesy Visit Baton Rouge

Correction: A previous version of this report unintentionally omitted new funding for Lafayette's Bayou Vermilion Flood Control project and included old funding for LCG's Heymann Center replacement, which was removed. We regret the error.

The gist: A last-minute shuffle at the Capitol Thursday put big money on the way to Lafayette in the twilight budget for the parish’s powerful legislative delegation.

Get caught up: Lafayette has benefited from outsized power in the state Capitol for years, but the parish’s reign in Baton Rouge is primed to fall off as its leaders in the state House and Senate hit their term limits this year.

Lafayette is in line for $740 million across dozens of projects in this year’s proposed state budget, about $648 million of which was newly added by legislators this spring. The budget passed a final vote in the Legislature Thursday, and is headed to Gov. John Bel Edwards for approval, subject to his line-item veto power.

Most of the money is headed to UL for construction and renovation projects totaling about $422 million, but the parish government is in line for about $318 million.

That includes $52.5 million for a new jail, which may be the parish’s only shot at paying for Mayor-President Josh Guillory’s proposed public-private partnership for construction of a new correctional facility. His original plan didn’t include any funding from the state.

LCG CAO Cydra Wingerter says the state funding is needed to help the parish pay for the new correctional facility, since local property tax dollars won’t be enough to cover LCG’s annual lease payments.

The parish is still working out the details of what will be included in the new jail with the contractors it selected last year, Wingerter says, so it’s currently unclear what LCG’s estimated annual lease payments would be.

Guillory’s initial pitch envisioned as much as $10.5 million per year being available to pay for the new jail. But LCG’s annual budget paints a more realistic picture of about $1.5 million in available annual funds. The administration’s proposal was originally expected to be presented to the Parish Council in May, but Wingerter says the end of this summer is a more realistic timeline.

The Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office also got $54 million related to the new jail complex, but those funds were set aside to move LPSO’s myriad Downtown operations out to the Willow Street location where the new jail is expected to be built, not to finance the actual jail.

$75 million to replace the Heymann Center also was added for UL, while LCG's $24 million allocation from last year was cut from the final budget. The two are expected to build the new facility together. Combined, the funds could cover most of the cost to replace the Heymann Center, though that will depend on the building’s design, which remains unsettled.

$22 million was added to Guillory’s signature Bayou Vermilion Flood Control project, which includes the beleaguered Homewood Drive detention pond. The additional funds bring the project's state allocation up to $35 million this year and should help offset the project's increased cost following LCG's $11.5 million settlement with the Homewood pond's property owners.

But most of Lafayette’s money isn’t coming, not yet anyway. The vast majority of funds headed to Lafayette in this year’s budget will be tied up in the state’s nebulous priority funding mechanism, where much of Lafayette’s share occupies the lowest rung, meaning those dollars could be years away from being disbursed.

For the new jail, that leaves $17.5 million actually available to LCG and $7.8 million for LPSO this year. Meanwhile, UL will actually get just $1 million each for the Heymann Center replacement out of the $75 million set aside for the project in this year’s budget. For Bayou Vermilion Flood Control, $13 million of LCG’s $35 million allotment is actually on the table.

All told, $231 million — or 73% — of Lafayette’s slice of the state budget pie is locked into Priority 5 funding, meaning it only exists on paper and can’t be sent to Lafayette without legislative action and support from the governor in the coming years. For UL, that figure is closer to 88%, or about $371 million.

That could mean years of waiting before LCG can start construction on replacements for the jail and the Heymann Center.

Getting the money out of state funding purgatory will be a fight for a new Lafayette delegation during the next legislative term. And it will be one they undertake likely without senior leadership in the key positions of power that have defined Lafayette’s role in state politics for the past four years.

Senate President Page Cortez is chief among Lafayette’s term-limited power players and has helped steer tens of millions of state dollars to the parish since becoming Senate president in 2020. Also term-limited from seeking reelection are Rep. Stuart Bishop, chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, and Rep. Vincent Pierre, who leads the Legislative Black Caucus.

Other veteran Lafayette legislators would be adjusting to a new landscape at the state Capitol next year. Two-term Rep. Jean Paul Coussan is seeking election to Cortez’s seat in the Senate this fall, and Sen. Gerald Boudreaux, whose relationship with Gov. John Bel Edwards has been critical for the parish, will enter his final term in the Senate next year with a new governor at the helm.

“We were in a position to really capitalize [on] this year’s process, for sure,” says Wingerter. “But we’re confident that as these projects progress through planning and design, that we’ll be able to lean on the state, even though we won’t have quite the muscle we had this session.”