It’s been a scant seven months since State Treasurer John Kennedy fired off that news release claiming that 36 Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) owed the state either an audit their expenditure of state funds or a combined refund of up to $4.5 million.
The resulting furor resulted in political watchdog C.B. Forgotston’s publicizing the corporate structure and frequent lack of corporate standing of many of those 36 NGOs which in turn prompted a flurry of hostile communications and threats of lawsuits on behalf of State Sen. Yvonne Dorsey Colomb (D-Baton Rouge), whose husband, Sterling Colomb was the recipient of a $300,000 state grant in 2007.
Without rehashing the details of that little political firestorm, suffice it to say that none of those 36 NGOs are back this year asking for state handouts but it certainly did not deter others from seeking legislative largesse at a time when Louisiana continues to be strapped for cash to improve highways, fund higher education, or to provide basic services for the physically, mentally and economically disadvantaged citizens of Louisiana.
In all, 87 NGOs, including one identifying itself with the attention-grabbing name of Diaper Bank (at least it’s not a diaper exchange), have submitted requests for funding from the state totaling more than $109 million and some of the applicants may surprise you—and maybe not.
While most requests are of modest amounts from local councils on aging, community centers, local economic development corporations and other non-profit social services, a mere 34—less than half the total number of applicants—account for requests of $100,000 or more but those 34 combined for more than $108.4 million in requested funding, according to figures obtained from the state.
Topping the list are the Audubon Nature Institute (ANI) ($32.4 million), The Biomedical Research Foundation of Northwest Louisiana (BRF) ($11.48 million), and the State Fair of Louisiana in Shreveport (two requests of $10.165 million and $2.5 million).
Their requests combined for $56.545 million, or nearly 52 percent of the total dollar amount requested for all 87 applicants.
ANI, which operates the Audubon Zoo, the Audubon Aquarium, and a golf course, is requesting $12 million in Priority One, or first-year funding to finance ongoing construction projects which total more than $300 million since 1977, its application says. The $12 million was approved by the legislature in 2013 and was subsequently approved by the State Bond Commission as a noncash line of credit. The remainder of its $12 million request is broken out in subsequent year priorities, the application indicated.
Perhaps the most controversial of all the requests is that of BRF.
The $11.48 million it is seeking is in addition to more than $120 million in hospital improvements and expansions the state is expected to bankroll after BRF assumed operations last October at the LSU Medical Center in Shreveport and E.A. Conway Medical Center in Shreveport—a move that the Jindal administration insists will ultimately save the state money—even though the transaction has yet to be approved by the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).
The request is a two-part application for BRF itself and not for either of the hospitals. The first is for $6.53 million for upgraded and expanded equipment for the PET Imaging Center, which was approved by the legislature in 2013 as a Priority Two project.
The second part is for $4.95 million for Micro-Imaging Equipment for the Molecular Imaging Center.
BRF is headed by CEO John George who also sits on the LSU Board of Stuporvisors which last year approved the transfer of the two hospitals to BRF, apparently circumventing conflict of interest laws with some fancy sleight of hand.
The State Fair Association is seeking $10.165 for repairs to Hirsch Memorial Coliseum, the venue where Elvis gave his final performance as a member of the Louisiana Hayride on Dec. 16, 1956, just two years after the facility was constructed.
A second request of $2.5 million is for the construction of an exhibit building on the fairgrounds to replace the one that was previously demolished. It will house the LSU AgCenter exhibits during the annual State Fair and will be leased as a multipurpose venue during the remainder of the year, the application said.
Other requests in order of amounts from most to least include:
- Louisiana Children’s Museum, New Orleans—$10 million;
- Teach for America, New Orleans—$5 million;
- Food Bank Association, Baton Rouge—$5 million;
- Louisiana Association for the Blind, Shreveport—$4.926 million;
- Lighthouse for the Blind, New Orleans—$4.8 million;
- Kingsley House, New Orleans—$4.415 million;
- Daughters of Charity Services, New Orleans—$$3.737 million;
- Capitol City Family Health Center, Baton Rouge—$2.349 million;
- New Orleans Jazz Orchestra—$1.45 million;
- The Ogden Museum of Southern Art, New Orleans—$1.124 million;
- WYES-TV (public television), New Orleans—$1 million;
- Sci-Port: Louisiana Science Center, Shreveport—$1.3 million (two requests, $1 million and $300,000);
- Louisiana Assistive Technology Access Network (LATAN), Baton Rouge—$750,000;
- The Developmental Institute for Rural & Urban Excellence, Monroe—$750,000;
- Bayou Civic Club, Larose—$646,491;
- Jefferson Performing Arts Society, Metairie—$600,000;
- Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation—$544,020;
- District 2 Community Enhancement Corp., New Orleans—$500,000;
- South Louisiana Economic Council, Thibodaux—$467,995;
- Washington Parish Fair Association, Franklinton—$403,100 (two requests of $353,100 and $50,000 for replacement and repairs to building and roofs);
- Tangipahoa Diaper Bank, Hammond—$316,000;
- New Orleans Bowl—$280,577 (to pay a share of the financial guarantee of $500,000 each to the Sun Belt Conference and Conference USA whose conference champions pay in the New Orleans Bowl);
- Opportunities Industrialization Center of Ouachita, Monroe—$250,000;
- Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center, Baton Rouge—$250,000;
- Special Olympics Louisiana, Hammond—$250,000;
- Woods Products Development Foundation, Pineville—$214,000;
- Teaching Responsible Earth Education, New Orleans—$200,000;
- Healing Hearts for Community Development, Metairie—$151,388;
- Helping Assist Multi-Purpose Community Organization (HAMPCO), Monroe—$105,104;
- Louisiana Restaurant Association Education Foundation, Metairie—$100,000;
- Nicholson Redskins Booster Club, Marrero—$100,000.
Teach for America (TFA) submitted another of the more controversial requests.
The billion-dollar organization pays its founder more than $390 million a year to train non-teaching college graduates for about five weeks during the summer months and then installing them in classroom settings with no experience. For that, local school boards are obligated to pay TFA teachers’ salaries and to pay TFA $3,000 per teacher recruited—even as long-time teachers are being laid off because of budget cuts.
So, if TFA receives $3,000 per teacher placed in local school systems and the systems must then pay TFA teachers’ salaries, what is the $5 million from the state used for?
No one really knows because the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) is complicit in the cover-up. In fact, one BESE member, Kira Orange Jones, also serves as executive director of Teach for America—Greater New Orleans-Louisiana Delta.
The Louisiana Food Bank Association provides food for more than 609,000 persons each year through some 700 community and faith-based organizations in every parish in the state.
The Louisiana Association for the Blind provides vocational training and rehabilitation services visually impaired Louisiana citizens in much the same manner as the Lighthouse for the Blind.
Kingsley House’s application described the organization’s purpose as “to help maintain required infrastructure that underlies essential service delivery by the agency to nearly 6,000 people that meets the need for services of at-risk children, families, medically fragile/disabled adults and seniors in 12 parishes across southeast Louisiana.”
Daughters of Charity Services of New Orleans attempts to “restore medical services to the New Orleans East community,” an area it claims is “underserved.”
Capitol City Family Health Center performs many of those same functions for a seven-parish area surrounding Baton Rouge.
The New Orleans Jazz Orchestra will use its grant money, if approved, to expand existing programs, according to its application.
The Ogden Museum of Southern Art would use its $1.1 million to renovate the Patrick Taylor Library for use by the museum.
Sci-Port is part of the Louisiana Science Center which in turn is affiliated with the Louisiana Children’s Museum and will use its funding to bring a children’s museum with IMAX technology to Shreveport.