Trying to salvage his decision last week not to hold New Orleans accountable to the rule of law, Louisiana Republican Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser exposed to a national television audience the hypocritical, if not disingenuous, half-baked rationales he and others had employed.
Appearing on Fox News this past Sunday, Nungesser fielded questions about the issue, where the State Bond Commission after two previous tries finally approved a $39 million non-cash line of credit, termed Priority 5 (P5) funding, for the quasi-state agency New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board to build a new power plant that could increase the reliability of pumps operating to prevent flooding. Two months previously, it had authorized the another $32.7 million in actual cash, termed Priority 1 (P1) funding, for the project towards the eventual total $106 million cost.
But it had refused the P5 amount because a couple of weeks earlier the New Orleans City Council passed a resolution declaring that the city wouldn’t dedicate resources towards investigating allegations of illegal abortions provided, under a newly-enacted state law that severely limits the practice, unless incident to another allegation of law-breaking. Nungesser’s representative at the time joined others in the refusal, and would do so again the next month. At the time, the majority noted that the P5 amount wouldn’t become relevant for many months and any actual cash wouldn’t be disbursed until later in 2023 – if at all, as the Legislature could choose not to reauthorize project funding. In the meantime, the postponement would give the city a chance to provide an adequate explanation for picking and choosing which laws it would make a good faith effort to enforce, if not reconsider and rescind its official declaration.
However, with the exception of GOP Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry’s representative – Landry is expected to square off against Nungesser next year in the race to become governor, along with Republican Treasurer John Schroder – all voted to approve the P5 money last week, despite no change in New Orleans’ position. This controversy the Fox News host addressed, and Nungesser butchered it from the start.
Asked about the importance of the plant and its funding specifics – twice – all Nungesser could do is say debt funding was involved, knowing next to nothing about the actual project itself probably because he rarely attends SBC meetings, which he admitted. He then erroneously said “many” projects had been held up – only this part of this one had – because of “politics” and that “the Bond Commission is not a place to play politics.”
Yet at its February, 2020 meeting the SBC very clearly injected political considerations into its decision-making when it created a list of preferred bidders for bond underwriting, choosing to exclude lenders who practiced viewpoint discrimination. Nungesser never has objected to this, and he didn’t at the time – because not only did he not attend that meeting, he didn’t even bother to send a representative. If this doesn’t make his on-air statement rank hypocrisy, it’s the closest thing to it.
Worse, Nungesser graduated to outright fabrication toward the end of the segment, when he alleged that voting against the P5 project would hold up many others, “over $600 million” for the worth for the state, he claimed, with the two-month delay something that made him “embarrassed.” This echoed confusion propagated at the meeting first by panelist GOP state Sen. Bret Allain, then amplified but ultimately walked back from by Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne.
Louisiana statute provides that the Legislature’s capital outlay legislation may create priorities and, if so, funding must occur in the order of priority; thus, no lower-funded project could procced unless all higher-priority ones were, absent a declaration through the state’s Interim Emergency Board and ratification by the Legislature that a project can’t be completed or its priority is changed. As always, the 2022 version of this, Act 117, in its preamble lays out the priority stipulation.
But the item at hand was not P1 – that portion had been approved two meetings previously – but P5. It could hold up nothing, including the $600 million figure which we only could guess meant Priority 2 funding. At the meeting, Dardenne crawfished on the idea refusing to approve would hold up anything, but tried to salvage the notion that a P5 approval had to come now or this potentially could hold things up in its becoming a P1 for next year. That’s meaningless; until the Legislature acts, nothing is guaranteed, and it misrepresents to imply otherwise. Not approving the P5 project at this time delayed nothing, and certainly not $600 million worth of projects.
Yet this distinction Nungesser lost entirely as he falsely pushed the notion that it did. Either he deliberately lied or he is really confused about an aspect of his job; neither commends his performance as an elected official.
So, as a result of this interaction Nungesser came off looking uniformed and/or duplicitous. However, reviewing more closely the chain of events leading to the decision last week, it’s clear among those voting to approve he’s not the only one, just that they weren’t outed on national television.