Louisiana Senate committee advances plan to spend $1.6B in federal dollars


A Louisiana Senate committee made its changes Tuesday to the state’s plan to spend about $1.6 billion in federal American Rescue Plan money.

Infrastructure, hurricane recovery and tourism promotion are among the items on the wish list, along with set-asides for loggers and movie theaters.

The House's version of the plan left some of the money unspent. The Senate Finance Committee made adjustments and additions to their requests and restored much of what Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration had requested.

“Most everything that we’ve asked you to do is in the amendment you’re about to adopt,” Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne told the committee.

Louisiana state government officials expect to receive about $3.01 billion from the ARP, not counting almost $2 billion local governments will share. State lawmakers will spend their first ARP allocation during this year’s session.

The biggest category of spending, $563 million, would go toward road and bridge construction. An additional $300 million would be reserved for water and sewer infrastructure, which lawmakers consider a major need, particularly in rural areas with underfunded and poorly maintained systems.

Sen. Bodi White, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, said requests for help with water systems likely will exceed $300 million, but more sources of federal funding could be available later.

Lawmakers also plan to use $190 million to repay the federal government for money borrowed to pay unemployment benefits after the state unemployment insurance fund ran out. Another $300 million will be used to shore up the fund balance.

A $60 million fund would help local and regional tourism commissions recover from their pandemic losses and gear up for what is expected to be an active tourism season. Another $17.5 million would help the department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism promote the state, and $10 million would go toward a fund used to attract major events.

The plan calls for spending $30 million for public entities in southwest Louisiana trying to recover from last year’s hurricane season. The money is meant to address unmet needs not covered by insurance or the federal government and will be distributed proportionally based on the loss, Lake Charles Sen. Ronnie Johns said.

The Louisiana Legislature would spend $50 million to help the state’s ports recover pandemic-related lost revenue, down from $55 million in the House version. The plan calls for $15 million to improve technology at the Capitol.

Senators kept the House's request for $90 million to promote broadband access in unserved areas.

There would be $10 million set aside to help the state’s logging industry, which has not been eligible for previous federal relief, lawmakers said. Another $4.5 million would go to movie theaters that were forced to close or reduce capacity during the pandemic, though theater owners and operators are eligible for a $16 billion U.S. Small Business Administration grant program.

Additional money for Louisiana small businesses the House approved was taken out, with the reasoning that such businesses were eligible for the Main Street Recovery Program approved last year, but $10 million was left for nonprofits. Another $5 million would go to support the goals of Senate Bill 229, which is pending in the House and seeks to address employment needs in nursing and allied health.

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