BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana's legislative leaders balked Thursday at a $63 million debt forgiveness plan for the Superdome's oversight board that Gov. John Bel Edwards' administration framed as a key piece of striking a new deal with the New Orleans Saints.
The Bond Commission discussion of that proposal and other ideas for steering state money to Superdome renovations brought no resolution. It remains unclear whether state lawmakers will pay for Edwards' commitment that Louisiana will cover $90 million of the $450 million in stadium improvements.
Treasurer John Schroder seemed exasperated over the question of whether the Legislature would agree to finance some of the renovations that remained unresolved after more than two years since the Democratic governor made the deal public.
“It's decision time,” said the Republican treasurer, who chairs the Bond Commission. The Superdome managers “need to be able to plan. We need to give them an answer.”
So far, the state has committed about $3 million to the Superdome upgrades, with another $25 million authorized — but not guaranteed — through the state's construction budget.
A contract for the next phases of the construction work “cannot be signed without some certainty on a revenue stream,” said Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, the governor’s chief budget adviser.
The Edwards administration is proposing that $63 million come from forgiving outstanding debts owed by the Superdome oversight board, the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District. The Bond Commission would have to approve that debt relief, and Cortez and other lawmakers on the commission are resistant to the idea.
Cortez said he thinks the debt forgiveness would set a bad precedent. But he didn't entirely shut the door on finding an approach to financing the Superdome renovations, and he said he wants the Saints to stay in Louisiana.
“I want to work toward fixing this,” the Senate president said.
He said he's had difficulty getting information from the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District about the financing of the early, completed phases of the Superdome renovations and didn't understand the urgency of the state putting up $90 million when there's other money available.
“I don't have the facts that are relevant,” Cortez said.
The Superdome improvement plan calls for the state covering $90 million of the renovations, the Saints putting up $150 million and the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District paying $210 million.
The $450 million in upgrades to the nearly 50-year-old iconic stadium in downtown New Orleans — with expanded club and suite levels, new concession stands, viewing decks and other improvements — was part of a plan aimed at keeping the Saints in New Orleans through 2055.
“Their lease is dependent on this,” Dardenne said.
The state’s current lease with the NFL team expires in 2025, though Saints owner Gayle Benson has pledged she intends to keep the club in New Orleans long-term.
Louisiana is sitting on a hefty state surplus, along with billions of dollars in unspent federal pandemic relief aid. A portion of that money could be used for the stadium improvements. But Dardenne said legislative decision-making sometime next year on whether to spend those dollars for the Superdome would take too long and could disrupt the construction plans.
The debt owed by the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District stems from 2013, when the state refinanced a prior loan used to restore the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina. The district is making annual payments on the debt to the state through 2039.
Dardenne's hoping the Bond Commission will support the debt forgiveness idea in November. The Edwards administration, Cortez and other lawmakers said they'd meet about the issue before next month's meeting.
But several legislative leaders have questioned whether the state should be paying for the stadium improvements at all. Rep. Stuart Bishop, a Lafayette Republican, suggested he believes the public would prefer the state spending millions on roadwork rather than “better suites in the Superdome.”
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