BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) – Louisiana’s plans to finance about $600 million in interstate projects got tangled up Thursday in a dispute over moves by two banking giants to restrict gun sales by their business customers.
The State Bond Commission, which regulates the roadwork financing plans, disagreed about how and if Louisiana should retaliate against Citigroup and Bank of America for their firearm restriction policies.
"Do I as your state treasurer want to do business with companies that impose these kinds of policies?" said Treasurer John Schroder, the Republican who chairs the commission. "And the answer to me was clearly no."
The quarrel didn’t derail plans to jumpstart the projects: a widening of Interstate 10 in Baton Rouge, a new exit from Interstate 20 into Barksdale Air Force Base, and an I-10 interchange to serve a new terminal at the New Orleans airport. Louisiana will use federal construction bonds, repaid over 12 years with federal highway dollars.
Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration successfully objected to language pushed by Schroder and Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry that was aimed at keeping the banks from being eligible to work as underwriters on the interstate financing deal.
The Democratic governor issued a statement describing himself as "a staunch defender of the Second Amendment" and calling Thursday’s meeting "an ugly display of political posturing that could have jeopardized a massive infrastructure plan for the state of Louisiana."
Anger at the banks is expected to again emerge as the commission works through the monthslong process to piece together the road deal, including when financing partners are chosen in July.
In March, in response to a deadly high school shooting in Florida the month before, Citigroup announced it would end relationships with businesses and clients that sell firearms to people who haven’t passed a background check or anyone under the age of 21. The bank also will not allow its customers to sell rapid-fire devices known as bump stocks and high-capacity magazines.
Bank of America said it will stop doing business with certain gun manufacturers.
Schroder questioned whether those policies violate a provision of the state constitution protecting gun rights. Other Bond Commission members also expressed their doubts.
"When did Citigroup and Bank of America decide to get into the policymaking business, instead of the banking business?" asked Rep. Blake Miguez, a Republican from Erath.
Landry described the banks’ policies as "fascism."
Representatives of both banks who appeared at Thursday’s meeting didn’t offer a defense of the policies or answer questions, but said they would take the Louisiana officials’ concerns back to bank leaders.
Schroder and Landry couldn’t rally enough support for their bid to prohibit Citigroup and Bank of America from being eligible to work as underwriters on the interstate financing deal. The Bond Commission voted 8-6 against including the language targeting the banks.
The proposal would have required an evaluation team that will review and grade proposals to block any companies with policies that "infringe on the constitutionally protected rights of the citizens of the state to lawfully keep and bear arms," among other provisions.
Edwards administration officials said they don’t like the banks’ policies, but they raised concerns about whether Schroder’s provision could damage the financing plans or slow down the interstate projects. They questioned if the language was too vague and would improperly force staff members to determine what could be a constitutional violation.
"We would not like to be the test case for what’s being proposed," said Transportation and Development Secretary Shawn Wilson.
Landry said the procedure for vetting financial partners would be "very simple."
"I didn’t know our Second Amendment rights were up for sale or had a price on them," he said.
Edwards’ chief lawyer Matthew Block replied: "This has not been well-thought-through as to how this would work mechanically."
Today, Gov. John Bel Edwards released the following statement on the State Bond Commission meeting where the members approved the administration’s plan to invest $650 million in critical infrastructure projects across the state:
"As a West Point graduate, Army Ranger, and avid hunter, I’m a staunch defender of the Second Amendment. However, today’s Bond Commission meeting was an ugly display of political posturing that could have jeopardized a massive infrastructure plan for the state of Louisiana. My administration’s approach to invest more than $600 million in infrastructure projects in Louisiana has received bipartisan support in the legislature and praise from Louisiana’s citizens and business groups. The State Bond Commission voted today to move forward with these critical projects, while at the same time reserving the right to consider the policies of the financial institutions that will finance the projects at a later date in a public meeting. I will continue to work every day to make Louisiana a business-friendly state and to support to infrastructure projects that will benefit our people."