Legislature agrees to use slots money for future Saints paym
Legislature agrees to use slots money for future Saints payments
6/23/2005, 3:17 p.m. CT
By MELINDA DESLATTE
The Associated Press
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Â Struggling for ways to make the state's annual payments to the Saints, lawmakers agreed to a plan Thursday that would put the NFL team in line for some of the tax money generated when slot machines start operating at the New Orleans Fair Grounds.
That wouldn't help the state fill in its shortfall in the current year's payment, but it would help when the slot machines go online in 2007 and thereafter, according to Rep. Peppi Bruneau, R-New Orleans, sponsor of the bill divvying up the slots money.
"All session we've been trying to find a New Orleans source of revenue," said Rep. John Alario, D-Westwego. "I think it's the right way to go on it."
The annual payments to the Saints are part of a 10-year, $186 million agreement negotiated by Gov. Mike Foster's administration in 2001. The state is about $9 million short of the $15 million payment due to the NFL team on July 5.
The state's budget for the new fiscal year that begins July 1 doesn't include any cash for the upcoming Saints payment. Instead, state officials want to borrow money again to make the payment. The state Bond Commission will take up the request Monday.
Last year, the state borrowed money from an economic development fund to pay the team and has yet to repay those dollars.
But lawmakers were looking for a long-term way to fix the problem and generate the cash.
Under Bruneau's bill, the Saints' payment ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Â and any dollars needed to fulfill the state's obligation to the New Orleans Hornets ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Â would fall after $2 million paid to a line of New Orleans area projects outlined in the bill for receipt of the slots tax dollars, including beautification projects, park renovations and other sports events.
Bruneau said estimates of the taxes that would be generated annually by the slots at the fair grounds range from $6 million to $12 million. Without the bill, the money would go to the state's coffers.
Rep. Juan LaFonta, D-New Orleans, said that so-called "food chain" doesn't give enough cash from the slots income to his district where the Fair Grounds is located. He said that neighborhood should get more dollars because it will get the wear and tear from the traffic.
"We are very tired of the money in our neighborhoods being taken out," he said, starting a lengthy debate on the House floor from New Orleans area lawmakers about the division of the slots dollars.
The House wasn't persuaded to send the measure back to a legislative compromise committee for further debate, however, and the bill won final legislative approval and was sent to Gov. Kathleen Blanco. The House approved the final version of the bill in a 77-23 vote, and the Senate in a 32-1 vote on the final day of the legislative session.
House Bill 393 can be found at www.legis.state.la.us
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