By now, everyone who isn’t emotionally involved with Dancing with the Stars or Bachelor, is acutely aware that the state, going into the 2015 legislative session, is flirting with a $1.6 billion budget deficit.
And that doesn’t even take into consideration the growing backlog of sorely needed infrastructure repairs for state highways and universities totaling well over a billion dollars. Nor does it include previous deep cuts to health care and higher education.
Things are so bad that an increasingly desperate Bobby Jindal, running out of state buildings, vehicles and hospitals to sell or agency funds to raid, is even looking to sell the remainder of the state tobacco settlement money and the State Lottery in order to generate yet even more one-time revenue to cover recurring expenses.
And remember, this is the man who told the Monroe News-Star he was leaving the state in better shape than he found it. http://www.thenewsstar.com/story/news/politics/2015/03/13/gov-jindal-want-finish-strong/70262992/
Still, every year those non-government organizations (NGOs) make the obligatory trek to Baton Rouge with hands out, asking that legislators appropriate funding for their organizations. This year is no exception as 80 individual entities have submitted requests for funding of 89 separate projects totaling nearly $241.3 million.
Of that amount, $116 million, or 48 percent, were for NGOs in the greater New Orleans area.
Many of the requests are from the usual worthy organizations like councils on aging, youth groups and charitable organizations.
Among the larger requests:
- $26 million for the Foundation for Science & Math Education in New Orleans;
- $17.2 million for the Girl Scouts of Louisiana East in New Orleans;
- $4.4 million for Kingsley House in New Orleans;
- $1.6 million for the Louisiana Arts & Science Museum in Baton Rouge (two projects);
- $8 million for the Louisiana Children’s Museum in New Orleans;
- $5 million for the Louisiana Food Bank Association in Baton Rouge;
- $4 million for the Louisiana Regional Leadership Council in Lafayette;
- $27.7 million for a National Hurricane Museum and Science Center in Lake Charles;
- $1.4 million for renovations to VFW Post 8852 in Alexandria;
- $14.9 million for the North Desoto Water System in Stonewall;
- $4.1 million for the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans;
- $1.2 million for Sci-Port (Louisiana’s Science Center) in Shreveport;
- $10.7 million for repairs at the State Fair of Louisiana in Shreveport;
- $2.1 million for Administrators of the Tulane Education Fund in New Orleans;
- $4.3 million for Lighthouse for the Blind in New Orleans;
- $4.9 million for the Louisiana Association for the Blind in Shreveport;
- $3 million for the Baton Rouge Empowerment Foundation;
- $10 million for the Gulf Coast Restoration and Protection Foundation in Baton Rouge;
- $7 million for the Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana;
- $2 million for the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra;
- $2.6 million for Loyola University in New Orleans;
- $1.1 million for WYES Educational Television in New Orleans;
- $11.8 million for University Hospital & Clinics in Lafayette (two projects);
- $37.3 million for the Audubon Nature Institute in New Orleans;
- $5.68 for the Biomedical Research Foundation Northwest in Shreveport;
- $4.5 million for the NOLA Motorsports Hospitality Committee in New Orleans.
The last four warrant particular attention.
While all such organizations are barred from making political contributions because of their non-profit status, officers and members of their boards of directors are not bound by such restrictions. Jindal received $167,000, various members of the Louisiana House and Senate got $65,650, and the Louisiana Republican Party was the beneficiary of another $26,000 from seven principals connected with those four organizations.
University Hospital in Lafayette has been taken over by Lafayette General Medical Center in Jindal’s sweeping state hospital privatization scheme which raises immediate question of why the state should be funding projects at that facility.
Same for the Biomedical Research Foundation of Northwest Louisiana, which last year assumed operation of LSU Medical Center in Shreveport and E.A. Conway Medical Center in Monroe. The foundation received $5.7 million in state largesse last year.
The Audubon Institute receives millions of state dollars every year, much of which goes to the upkeep of the institute’s golf course. Last year, for example, Audubon Institute received $16.8 million in legislative appropriations.
But for sheer audacity, we give you the NOLA Motorsports Hospitality Committee. Here is its summary justifying its request for $4.5 million:
- NOLA Motorsports Park in Jefferson Parish, through a competitive process, has been selected as the site for an INDYCAR event to be part of the championship Verizon INDYCAR Series. The selection was made, in part, because of the availability of a venue for the Event and related activities, transportation infrastructure, personnel, commitment to comply with the required specifications, and because of the collaborative relationships that have been established with other support entities. The Nola Motorsports Host Committee, Inc., a non-profit corporation, has committed to host a first-class Event and to plan and provide a unique and entertaining visitor experience for all which will include live music from Louisiana artists, regional cuisine, and demonstrations of Louisiana’s culture to enhance the visitor experiences for all participants including drivers, team owners, team supporters, corporate sponsors, family and guests, media, and other attendees; and
- The public purpose of the Event is to provide supplemental funding to the Nola Motorsports Host Committee, Inc. to host the inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana which will support the expansion and promotion of tourism by producing an event that is projected to stimulate substantial growth in the Louisiana tourism industry, resulting in job creation and other increased economic activity, including the generation of tax revenue for state and local governments. Nola Motorsports Host Committee has secured a preliminary economic impact analysis from Formula, LLC which indicates an estimated economic impact of $27.8 million annually from the Event. INDYCAR has guaranteed a 3-year lifecycle of the Event with the goal of the Event being an annual occurrence. The goal is to attract visitors to Louisiana and to maintain awareness and a positive image of Louisiana as a unique and desirable travel destination. It is anticipated that the public benefit is proportionate to the obligations undertaken by the State. The State will receive tourism publicity and recognition for its support through verbal acknowledgements, media events, and in other related publicity associated with promoting and publicizing the Event.
But wait. Didn’t this same organization receive $4 million from the state just last year for track improvements after Jindal made a commitment to the track owners to come through with the money?
Well, yes and no.
This is where things get a bit murky.
You see, last year, when Jindal yanked a $4.5 million appropriation away from the developmentally disabled, it was to give the money to NOLA Motor Club (The NGO got $4 million, not the $4.5 it requested), a corporation that was established in September of 2009 and which remains in good standing.
This year, however, the $4.5 million request came from a corporation calling itself NOLA Motorsports Host Committee, established last June.
Both corporations listed their addresses at 11075 Nicolle Blvd. in Avondale, however, but had different officers, according to corporate records on file with the Secretary of State’s office.
But wait. There is a third entity: NOLA Motorsports established in May of 2008 and located at 2251 Drusilla Lane, Suite B in Baton Rouge. But that corporation is listed as inactive and records show its corporate status was revoked on Aug. 16, 2013.
One of the officers of NOLA Motor Club was Laney Chouest.
While Laney Chouest was listed as an officer for NOLA Motor Club, he is not listed among the officers for NOLA Motorsports Host Committee. It is nevertheless interesting to note that he, other members of the Chouest family and their many business enterprises have made $166,300 in campaign contributions since 2003. They include $43,800 to various legislators, $26,000 to the Louisiana Republican Party and $96,500 to Jindal.
What best illustrates the arrogance of that fiscally irresponsible appropriation, the thing that pushed it to the status of virtual malfeasance, is the fact that the Senate Finance Committee, taking its cue from Jindal, ripped $4.5 million from the budget for Louisiana’s developmentally disabled in order to free up the money for the racetrack. The lone dissenting vote was that of State Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge). http://louisianavoice.com/2014/05/26/senate-finance-committee-craters-to-jindal-rips-4-5-million-from-developmentally-disabled-for-racetrack/
But what compounds that unconscionable act was the motivation behind Jindal’s action.
The man who for his entire term of office has railed against government encroachment (see: federal stimulus funds, Common Core, medical care, prisons, etc.), obviously based his justification on political expedience and using state government to take care of his contributors.
Though Laney Chouest is not listed among the officers for NOLA Motorsports Host Committee, it is nevertheless interesting to note that he, other members of the Chouest family and their many business enterprises have made $166,300 in campaign contributions since 2003. They include $43,800 to various legislators, $26,000 to the Louisiana Republican Party and $96,500 to Jindal.
Two members of the Senate Finance Committee, Robert “Bret” Allain (R-Franklin) and Norbert “Norby” Chabert (R-Houma), received $2,500 each from Gary Chouest in 2010 and 2011.
Isn’t it interesting how a state so broke as to find itself unable to fund things like highway and bridge repair, health care, higher education, and a host of other essential services, can find $4 million for a race track, $7.7 million for golf courses across the state, $35.1 million for professional sports facilities, $10.1 million for local sports complexes, and another $3 million for baseball stadiums (including $1.4 million for a baseball stadium in Baton Rouge, when we don’t even have a team here)?
It will certainly be interesting to follow the outcome of some of these NGO requests.
Especially those last four on the list.