We did it!
Thanks to your efforts, and the support of others across the state, the Health and Welfare Committee unanimously passed House Bill 780, which would require LSU to show that they could finance the construction of the new hospital complex before seizing land from residents and business owners of Lower Mid-City.
This is a huge win for the residents of Lower Mid-City, citizens of New Orleans in need of a hospital, and concerned taxpayers across the state.
Today, it was reaffirmed that common sense fiscal responsibility and pragmatic planning are valued across the State of Louisiana, regardless of party or region.
The bill will now pass out of the committee to be debated before the entire House of Representatives.
Testimony from concerned New Orleanians, including some home and business owners facing displacement in Lower Mid-City, proved invaluable. So too, was the unexpected testimony of State Treasurer John Kennedy.
LSU's Dr. Fred Cerise was certainly caught by surprise. And he was not a happy camper.
You're definitely going to want to keep reading... more video of Treasurer Kennedy after the jump.
Representative Nowlin (R-Natchitoches), who drafted the bill, faced healthy skepticism from Rep. Neil Abramson (D-New Orleans) and Rep. Walker Hines (D-New Orleans) who were concerned that passage of the bill would slow down the construction of a new medical complex in New Orleans. Rep. Hines also questioned whether this bill would slow or discourage the VA Hospital by signaling further division.
It became clear, however, after listening to testimony on both sides that the bill was, as we described, a no-brainer smart decision to force LSU to be forthright and transparent. This bill will not slow down the process. One of only two people to speak in opposition to the bill, Director of the Governor's Office of Facility Planning and Control Jerry Jones, conceded that Rep. Nowlin's bill would not threaten the VA facility.
The testimony of Mickey Weiser, who owns a hundred million dollar security services firm in the footprint, was especially captivating for members of the Committee. Following his heart after Katrina, Weiser returned to rebuild in New Orleans. He now feels disposable, he said, and may be forced to relocate out of state.
Bill Borah, of the sustainable planning organization Smart Growth For Louisiana, gave an incredible presentation demonstrating the pitfalls of proceeding with big development schemes while the funding remains unsure. He profiled the riverfront expressway battle that occurred in New Orleans in the 1960s, the physical legacy of which is an abandoned tunnel under the intersection of Canal and Poydras streets. What was once an expensive and destructive portion of a supposedly 'done deal' highway sat empty for decades. It is now used by Harrah's Casino for storage.
How could anybody question the efficacy of the bill? Whatever healthy reservations some legislators may have had, they were quickly put to rest. Interestingly enough, it was John LaBruzzo (R-Metairie), who has not been particularly sympathetic to our Save Charity family in the past, that finally called to end debate and pass the measure.
A critical turning point occurred when Rep. Nowlin called State Treasurer John Kennedy to speak about LSU's murky financing picture. Kennedy explained that not only is LSU's funding plan incomplete, but the national financial collapse and impending health care reform legislation coming out of US Congress and the Obama administration could change Louisiana's calculations drastically.
"We can't make this decision in a vacuum."
For Kennedy, it wasn't just a drop-in appearance. He remained in the committee room for the duration of the testimony and was prepared to speak again, presumably to refute some of Mr. Jones assertions, when Rep. LaBruzzo called for passage. It was then, as spectators adjourned to the hallway, that Kennedy was confronted by LSU's Dr. Fred Cerise, who sat in on the hearing but did not speak.
Cerise, the LSU System Vice President for Health Affairs and Medical Education, has been one of LSU and the State's leading voices in favor of the LSU/VA complex boondoggle.
He was none too pleased with Treasurer Kennedy's growing skepticism. What started as a normal conversation became an incredibly heated argument as Cerise was overheard telling Kennedy to "shut the f__k up" about LSU's business plan, or lack thereof. Much of the confrontation was caught by WWLTV's cameras and will likely be broadcast tonight.
Update: Here is the tail end of the spat. Looks like their cameras missed the real fireworks.
SaveCharityHospital was able to capture Treasurer Kennedy's interview with WWLTV in the aftermath of the confrontation with Cerise.
When asked whether the state should consider rebuilding within Charity Hospital, Treasurer Kennedy said, "I think we ought to be able to look at all the options. That's the problem since day one, that you can only look at this option and nothing else. That's not a rational way to do business."
We couldn't agree more.