Panel seeks Saints-slots compromise
Panel seeks Saints-slots compromise
Bruneau objects to Senate version; changes rejected
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
By Ed Anderson
BATON ROUGE -- A bill that could funnel at least $6 million per year in revenue from New Orleans Fair Grounds slot machines to the Saints and other local projects was sent to a legislative compromise committee Tuesday to resolve differences between House and Senate versions.
Rep. Peppi Bruneau, R-New Orleans, chief sponsor of House Bill 393, asked the House to reject Senate changes in the bill because they do not track what he wants the bill to do. Then House approved Bruneau's request 97-1. The only vote against Bruneau's request was cast by Rep. Mack "Bodi" White, R-Central.
"I think we are all in agreement with what the intentions for the bill are," but the Senate changes do not follow those intentions, Bruneau said.
Bruneau said the bill should be brought back before lawmakers today.
The compromise committee will be made up of Bruneau, two other House members and Sen. Edwin Murray, D-New Orleans, who handled the bill in the Senate, and two more senators. They are charged with coming up with a revised version of the bill that must be submitted to both chambers for final passage before lawmakers adjourn Thursday at 6 p.m.
Bruneau's original bill sought to tap revenue from slot machines to be installed at the Fair Grounds to finance about $2 million worth of improvements at City Park, up from the $200,000 in existing law. But Bruneau said the Senate version would give City Park 30 percent of an unspecified amount of money, making what the park would get too vague.
Another 20 percent, Bruneau said, would be allocated to the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation, an organization that works to bring major sporting events to the New Orleans area. Bruneau said the language in the bill makes that figure also vague.
Bruneau said the best indications he has received are that slots at the Fair Grounds will raise about $12 million per year, based on an 18.5 percent tax on the slots that goes to the state.
Fair Grounds lobbyist Jim Harris said the latest projections -- "and they are projections only" -- is that the slots will generate $6 million to $8 million annually.
Legislative Fiscal Office economist Greg Albrecht said that because the slots have not been installed and gambling has not begun, the proceeds from the tax at the race track casino "can only be speculated about."
Bruneau said it will be at least a year before the facility will be open. He said his bill is not designed to help the state meet its annual contractual guarantees to the Saints this year or maybe not even for next year but that it could provide some support down the line.
The state signed a 10-year, $186.5 million deal with the Saints in 2001 guaranteeing an annual payment, which this year is $15 million. By the time the contract expires, the annual payments would increase to $23.5 million.
The state was about $7 million short in its $15 million payment to the team last year and is expected to be about $9 million short on the payment due July 5.
The Superdome Commission, which oversees the agreement with the team, borrowed money last year to make the payment and has said it would issue notes or bonds this year to make the payment.
Besides City Park and the sports foundation, other entities in the bill would receive revenue, including:
-- As much as $200,000 to the Algiers Economic Development Foundation.
-- As much as $200,000 to a training program for hospitality industry employees in the New Orleans area.
-- As much as $100,000 for beautification projects in city neighborhoods, possibly including the area around the Fair Grounds.
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Ed Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (225) 342-5810.
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