The money wheel is spinning again, and this time there are some very big, passionate, and needy contestants standing around the dais looking for their chance at the prize.
Just like there are, every time the money wheel spins. Who, then, is going to win this round?
Well - no one, that’s who, because almost all of the contestants find themselves connected in one way or another, competing over a limited amount of dollars.
The tangled vine begins with Gov. John Bel Edwards. The good governor has called a special session - just in time for Mardi Gras - to try and address two glaring issues in the state budget.
First, a roughly $360 million deficit in the Louisiana coffers. Second, a $13 billion Department of Transportation and Development backlog.
The first issue seems like business-as-usual, but for the three marathon sessions in 2016 which saw increased taxes and cuts to higher eduction and health - just to name a few. Those cuts and taxes came up short, so the Legislature must find different ways to cut and amend the budget.
Bel Edwards stands firm on his word that he will not bring more cuts to those items that were slashed in 2016... time will tell.
However, the plan there will simply fix the year-over-year expenditures of the State. Those fixes still do not address the multi-billion dollar DOTD backlog.
HB2 - dubbed the “Capital Outlay Budget” - is roughly $2.6 billion, per year. Over half of those monies go toward small pet projects in legislative districts where the governor, or some other decision maker, needed a favor. Edwards seems to want to keep his nose clean on this one but, be that as it may, the mountain seems too tall to climb on state funds alone.
So, Edwards intends to close the loop by raising private money to fund the gap.
This is where the other two players enter the arena - The City of Walker, et al. against The State of Louisiana, DOTD, and an assortment of engineering firms; and Congressman Garret Graves.
Walker’s suit revolves around the separating wall between I-12 eastbound and I-12 westbound lanes. The end result, during the flood, was a dam that prevented much of the water from flowing south - instead causing it to build up on the north side of the interstate, inundating homes and businesses that otherwise might have avoided the catastrophe.
The real targets, however, are not the state and DOTD - they were included simply so Walker and its cohorts could file an injunction to prevent DOTD from constructing more separating walls.
No, the real targets are the engineering firms and their insurance companies. The current pot of monies is estimated, at minimum, to be $100 million.
Some of the members of the filing law firm believe it could be upward of $1 billion.
On the public relief side of the flood, Graves has been critical of FEMA’s guidelines and rules, stating that it has hampered progress. Not only that, but Graves - as well as Parish President Layton Ricks - believe that Livingston Parish was slighted by the Edwards-appointed task force with regard to distributed relief funds.
Ricks is going to take his fight to the task force, Graves is going to return to D.C. for more money - a piece of a $1.6 billion pie, to be exact.
The common theme here is the state - DOTD - private industry relationship. Louisiana, and by proxy DOTD, are sovereign entities - anyone can file suit against them, but in the end, even in victory, reward funds must be appropriated through the state legislature.
Good luck with that.
No, under most circumstances those private businesses who danced with the devil must pay the price.
One step further - both the ‘Geaux Wider’ I-12 project, which installed the barriers, and the Comite Diversion Canal are infrastructure projects. Each of these endeavors has been mis-managed in some way - from 30 year tax collections with little to show for it (Diversion), to recommendations that drainage slits be cut in the I-12 barrier - warnings which were ignored due to cost issues.
Government entities are rife with mismanagement - from FEMA to DOTD - and the citizens see it. However, will Gov. Edwards be able to convince private business to invest funds in Louisiana’s infrastructure?
The pitch is there - ‘keep people in the State with new roads,’ ‘stop the next flood,’ etc., etc.
Unfortunately, Mr. Edwards has some rough history working against him. If he can top the mountain, perhaps they’ll name a hill after him.
If he fails, well - just another day in Louisiana, as we who ride the bumpy roads wonder who the next champion will be to brave the money wheel.