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Dec 11, 2010 10:42 PM by Chris Welty

Some Senators Criticize Plan to Sell State Land

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Gov. Bobby Jindal's idea to sell state
property to offset budget gaps drew complaints Friday from state
senators who said it doesn't make sense to generate short-term cash
relief for long-term money woes.
Members of the Senate Finance Committee discussed the sale
proposals as they combed through spending plans for the Department
of Corrections. A day earlier, Jindal floated the idea of selling
two state prisons, along with other office buildings and future
lottery proceeds, to partially fill in the $1.6 billion shortfall
in the 2011-12 budget that begins July 1.
Selling state-owned prisons in Allen and Winn parishes, which
already are operated by private companies, would generate an
estimated $64 million, Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc said.
Senators said the proposal could increase state costs over time
because the state would be at the whim of private operators who
would own the facilities. When pressed, LeBlanc acknowledged he
wouldn't recommend selling the prisons if the state wasn't in a
tough budget situation.
"What happens after the $64 million is used one time and then
goes away?" asked Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans.
"Hopefully, it'll buy enough time to get us through a difficult
time," LeBlanc said.
Peterson called the suggestion of selling state assets
irresponsible. Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, said while
"sometimes you have to have a garage sale to raise a little bit of
money," he doesn't think the sale of prisons and other state
buildings makes sense.
Jindal said Friday that he'd only support the prisons sale if it
wouldn't raise costs and would save the state ongoing maintenance
expenses.
"We would only do this if it makes sense for the state
financially," he said.
The Jindal administration is looking for ways to close budget
gaps next year without raising taxes, which the governor has
refused to support.
When he announced the sale proposals Thursday, Jindal stressed
that he's only considering them to possibly lessen cuts. He hasn't
yet committed to recommending any of the ideas to state lawmakers
as part of his budget proposal, to be presented to the Legislature
in March, but he said the dollars raised could help reduce slashing
to health care and public colleges.
"We're still going to have to shrink the size of government, so
I think it can make sense to use one-time money to continue to
restructure government," Jindal said.
Resistance is expected in the state House, where lawmakers have
repeatedly bristled at recommendations to use one-time sources of
revenue to pay for continuing programs. Senators also raised
similar concerns Friday.
"I think it provides some short-term cash flow relief," said
Sen. Mike Michot, chairman of the Finance Committee. "The concern
is that there's no long-term recurring source of revenue for the
state."
Michot, R-Lafayette, said the idea of selling state buildings
and then leasing them back runs contrary to the path state
officials and lawmakers took a decade ago under Gov. Mike Foster.
Then, new state buildings were constructed, with arguments that it
made more sense for the state to own its own offices, rather than
leasing space around Baton Rouge.

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