Louisiana Lawmakers Back $80M for Economic Development

BATON ROUGE — State Economic Development Secretary Stephen Moret received legislative backing Friday for his plan to use $80 million in federal hurricane recovery money to compete for business projects.

The Legislature’s joint budget committee agreed without objection to the proposal, which requires Moret to get the budget committee’s approval for each individual project before it can receive money.

“This is not a blank check,” Moret assured lawmakers.

The $80 million would come from flexible federal block grant aid given to the state after Gustav and Ike struck in 2008, so the dollars must be spent in hurricane-damaged parishes. The plan needs approval from the full Legislature and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development before it is final.

Moret is seeking the money as other grant funds in his department shrink and the state faces budget shortfalls that threaten his department’s ability to get new grant dollars.

Moret said the projects will be prioritized on the number of jobs they create and the level of investment in the state. He said the money will be used to attract new businesses and to help retain and expand existing businesses.

Also approved by the budget committee were plans to allocate a final $42 million in Gustav and Ike block grant money: $5 million for aid to farmers, $17 million for communications equipment and $20 million to help local governments with their cost-share requirements for receiving FEMA aid. Those proposals will need approval from HUD and the full Legislature.