Politics 03.19.2008

Acadiana delegation filled wtih praise, ICF's $156 million raise and more

ACADIANA DELEGATION FILLED WITH PRAISE FOR SESSION With a $1.1 billion surplus fully spread around, how could area lawmakers not be at least a little giddy returning to their districts this week? That’s how much of your money was spent during the seven-day special session that convened last Friday.

More than $500 million was poured into roads and $300 million pegged for coastal protections. Tax breaks were also doled out to parents and businesses, and many regional ports received financial assistance. “The Legislature as a whole came forward to improve the business climate in this state. This session, in addition to the progress made from the special session on ethics, has the future of our state looking bright,” says Rep. Jonathan Perry, a Republican from Abbeville who chairs the Acadiana Delegation.

The lawmaker caucus represents a 22-parish stretch and is growing in membership. As part of its outreach, the delegation released a rave review of the recent special session that listed eight items of interest for the legislatively-defined area of Acadiana. Those items included:

• $20 million to widen U.S. Highway 90

• $75 million that UL Lafayette can share in with other Louisiana colleges and universities for critical repairs

• $2 million for Acadiana parishes (the Legislature’s 22; not the traditional geographic outlay) for the maintenance and improvement of rural roads.

Perry adds all of the accomplishments were collective goals that every member of the group assisted on when possible. “I am particularly proud of how the Acadiana Delegation came together on those issues that directly affected our districts,” he says.

GOVERNOR MAKES PR SWING THROUGH LAFAYETTE It’s becoming increasingly safe to label Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal as the most-traveled governor in recent years, at least inside state lines.

He hit the road and visited Louisiana major metro areas during the campaign, after being elected, before his special session on ethics and then again following the session. Now, with a successful second special session in the can, Jindal took to the asphalt again to tout his administration’s accomplishments from the gathering that convened last week.

He appeared on Monday at Lafayette’s Restaurant, in the Bayou Room, highlighting his victories from the recent special session where lawmakers spent the state’s $1.1 billion surplus according to an agenda crafted by his administration.

AN “INFURIATING” $156 MILLION INCREASE TO ICF FOR THE ROAD HOME Last week, The Times-Picayune revealed that former Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s administration increased the payment to ICF International for administering the Road Home project in December by $156 million — from $756 million to $912 million, an increase of 25 percent — unbeknownst to the general public. Blanco defended the action, telling the T-P via e-mail, “It was my understanding and belief that any contract change would be publicly noticed. I encourage Steve Theriot, the legislative auditor, whose office was consulted during negotiations, to continue to audit ICF and to hold them accountable for every dollar of their contract.” Theriot told the paper he would begin dissecting the amendment costs immediately.

The Associated Press reported that ICF is boasting strong profits after going public and getting “a potentially big raise recently from the state of Louisiana,” even though 56,000 applicants still hadn’t received any Road Home monies as of last month. True to form, ICF representatives defended the raise and laid blame elsewhere for inefficiencies in the program. ICF spokeswoman Gentry Brann complained in an Associated Press story that the Road Home has come to be viewed as an entitlement program and blamed meddling community groups for some of the program’s problems. The T-P was not amused, blasting Brann and ICF in a Sunday editorial:

“That is outrageous,” the paper wrote. “This grant money is a small measure of repayment for the massive devastation wrought when the federal government’s levees fell apart during Katrina. The air of entitlement comes from Ms. Brann and others at ICF, which went public after getting the Road Home contract and has profited handsomely on rising stock prices. ... Ms. Brann pointed out in the AP story that ICF will only make a 3 to 5 percent profit on the Road Home contract. She makes it sound like a sacrifice. But 5 percent on $912 million is $45.7 million. That would be a fortune to the thousands of South Louisianians who have had to beg for the grants they need to rebuild their shattered homes.”

Contributors: Jeremy Alford and R. Reese Fuller