HCR-59 was defeated today in the House. Strangely, it was defeated after several amendments to the resolution were passed - including one that would have required the state to return properties in the UMC footprint to former landowners if the project did not start construction by January 1, 2012.
Who led the charge to kill the bill? None other than Representative Walt Leger, III. He's shown a strange zeal in his vehement opposition to HCR-59, whether in committee or on the floor. Why would he be so opposed to greater legislative oversight of the beleaguered UMC project? Perhaps he wants a boondoggle to unfold and harm taxpayers, as well as the City of New Orleans - we're not sure.
We know one thing for sure, though: Rep. Leger is the chief figure who's been carrying water for Senator Karen Carter Peterson on the BioDistrict this session (Peterson was the author of the legislation that created GNOBEDD). He introduced a bill that the BioDistrict sought to have passed - even though the BioDistrict is not in his district. Essentially, he appears to have pushed the bill because Peterson's plate of bills was already full for the session. Today, he referenced "opponents" of the UMC on the floor. We don't know that anyone is an opponent of the UMC, but there are many opponents of the proposed UMC location and design.
Leger appears to be under the sway of the same spell as Peterson and Mayor Landrieu, the glowing, intoxicating lure of...BioDistrict New Orleans. Like the Mayor, Leger seems to be blinded by the "jobs for everyone" panacea that the LSU/VA project has come to represent (I thought this was about healthcare?), as well as the even larger bottle of economic cure-all elixir, the BioDistrict. The two projects really aren't connected, but the Mayor and the media continue to fuse the two together...even though BioDistrict New Orleans is even more fanciful at this point than even the troubled UMC project (ask BioDistrict staff who suddenly had to "volunteer" recently). Jim McNamara of the BioDistrict even stated at a Mid-City Neighborhood Organization meeting that the BioDistrict is not dependent upon the currently proposed location of the UMC. Whether the UMC flails along in the current footprint or goes into Charity, it shouldn't matter.
The Mayor and representatives of the state continue to try to dispel the notion that the Charity option remains viable. Boy, do they try hard to "put it to rest." But it just keeps rearing its head. Why? Because it makes sense on so many levels - urban planning (less vacant urban core, less destructive to neighborhoods), economic development (same economic development engine even if more concentrated), healthcare (it would come back faster than building new), creating a destination hospital (a revitalized Big Charity would be far more iconic and notable than another generic, suburban-style no-place in the UMC Footprint), and fiscal responsibility (the UMC programmatic requirements could be reconstituted for almost $400 million less). And, there's a $600,000 study that supports these claims.
We're also really interested in how the UMC push will affect other regional and local healthcare issues. How about the Methodist Hospital in New Orleans East, for example? Will the single-minded push for the UMC as currently proposed...ultimately require the state to make massive expenditures to save the UMC, but also derail or seriously delay other critical healthcare facilities? We've already seen the state cut $800 million in funding for healthcare facilities statewide in the face of budget realities. The Mayor's staff keep talking about how a hospital in the East is the chief priority. But is it? Follow the actions, not the rhetoric. And follow the finances necessary for the project too. To quote the Mayor, "So, you got the money?"
At any rate, HCR-59 may have been defeated by those who continue to put on the blinders and bull forward. That doesn't mean that the many uncertainties and hurdles that stand in the UMC's way have been cleared. It's still facing a long and treacherous path.