BATON ROUGE -- As the Jindal administration considers even more budget cuts -- as much as 35 percent -- to higher educatiion and health care many other spending programs go untouched.
When agencies fail to spend all of their budgets during a fiscal year, the excess funding reverts back to the state treasury where lawmakers are waiting to pounce on it for local pork barrel spending.
Take, for example, this year’s HB-76, the so-called “ancillary appropriations bill.” As soon as the extra money was “found,” legislators, instead of allocating all the new money to education and health care, poured $33 million into local funding projects like convention centers, golf courses, municipalities and parishes, arts councils, councils on aging, and museums.
As fiscally puzzling as all this may be, it pales in comparison to what the state has spent on golf courses, baseball parks, and other recreational complexes down through the years.
Because figures prior to 1997 are unavailable, only expenditures dating to that year are included here. But those 14 years should be sufficient for even the casual reader to detect an interesting trend in spending priorities in this state.
Since 1997, the state of Louisiana, through the legislative process, has deemed it necessary to spend $141 million on golf courses.
Another $18.5 million was spent during that same time frame on baseball parks, including nearly $4 million on a baseball stadium in Baton Rouge, which has no baseball team.
Over the 14 years in question, the Westlake golf club received nine separate Priority 1 appropriations totaling $37.96 million.
Not to be outdone, the Tournament Players Club in Jefferson Parish got seven separate appropriations totaling $48.2 million. Third was the City Park Golf Complex in New Orleans with seven Priority 1 appropriations worth $33.8 million.
Other golf course expenditures included:
· $16.1 million for the England (Airpark) Golf Course in Rapides Parish;
· $600,000 for the Bayou Segnette Golf Course in Jefferson parish;
· $2.7 million for development of a golf resort at Toledo Bend;
· $2 million to promote the Audubon Trail golf courses in efforts to promote more rounds;
· $16,000 for the Delhi Municipal Golf Course;
· $301,000 for the Black Bear Golf Club at Poverty Point (part of the Audubon Trail);
· $250,000 for the 2002 Compaq Golf Tournament in New Orleans;
· $550,000 for junior golf facilities and the Fore Kids Foundation golf tournament;
· $250,000 for promotion of the Classic Foundation golf tournament in New Orleans;
· $1.7 million for the Louisiana Junior Golf Commission.
The Black Bear Golf Course at Poverty Point was constructed on private property owned by the Poverty Point Development Corp. under the auspices of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development as part of a retirement community developed by State Sen. Francis Thompson and his brother, Mike Thompson.
Once completed, the golf course was donated to the Louisiana Office of Culture and Tourism with the proviso that a “professional manager” be appointed to administer the day to day operations of Black Bear. The manager who was appointed was Mike Thompson.
The Tournament Players Club Louisiana Golf Course (TPC) has proved to be the real money pit for the state.
Promoted by Sen. John Alario of Westwego and developer Buckner Barkley, Jr., TPA has been a money loser from the outset. The course was developed in an effort to pull a major PGA tournament into Jefferson Parish.
The state, during the administration of Gov. Mike Foster, entered into an agreement with TPC and Marrero Land and Improvement Association whereby the state guaranteed a minimum number of rounds played.
The rounds were required to be booked through New Orleans hotel concierges promoting the course. The hotel industry initially was not informed of the agreement and was unable to meet booking quotas.
The annual Zurich Classic is played at TPA and the fear was that it would lose the tournament and should that have happened, the property, with no professional tournament facilitator, would revert to Marrero Land.
To avert that occurrence, the Superdome Commission and commission chairman Doug Thornton negotiated a new deal whereby the state would pay off TPC’s $10 million indebtedness and take ownership of the property in exchange for a six-year commitment from the PGA to keep the Zurich Classic there.
While some legislators maintain the state should not be in the golf business, proponents of the arrangement insist it is the best option for the state, that it is good for the economy.
Likewise, supporters claim that the golf courses, such as Black Bear, are good for economic development and make the state’s investments a good idea.