Wednesday, March 23, 2011

"the money is in hand": An Open Response to Bobby Jindal's TV Appearance This Morning

No, Governor, the money is not in hand for the proposed University Medical Center in New Orleans.  It most definitely is not.

I have so many issues with the Governor's appearance on WWLTV this morning that I don't know where to begin.  And that's coming from someone who had high hopes for Bobby Jindal as a smart new kind of thinking conservative at the outset of his term as governor.

Watching the interview and Jindal's eyes-down, driving delivery ("It's absolutely going to happen."), it's almost as if he's simply trying to will the hospital into being, despite all the very real obstacles that remain.  That lines up with the state's approach on the ground for much of 2010. 

Let's run through a few of the claims made in the tv appearance:

1.  Shared services.  The whole premise of the "LSU/VA" hospital being co-located for synergy was long ago revealed as bunk.  And yet people continue to talk as if the hospitals are a joint venture.  Jindal says backroom facilities will still be shared.  What does that mean?  The host didn't push for any details.  I won't believe it until I hear concrete specifics.  The two facilities will open at such vastly different times at this rate that I don't know how either one could rely any any critical joint functions, unless the UMC is going to rely on VA services and not the other way around.

2.  A number of possible funding sources to make up the financing gap - What exactly are these mysterious sources?  In the late fall, it was very clear from consultants at a UMC Board meeting that if HUD did not approve the application from the UMC, the private bond market wouldn't touch the $400 million gap with a ten foot pole.  HUD's process is rigorous and does not guarantee funding to applicants by any means - and UMC still hasn't procured mortgage insurance from HUD.  In fact, HUD had a number of concerns about the initial UMC application - on major issues like design.  The money is not in hand.

3.  The vast majority of demolition will be done by April.  Perhaps - the state was demolishing movable, recently occupied, historic homes through the fall and winter, getting far out ahead of the financing, as noted by a UMC Board consultant.  But not all of it will be demolished by the end of April, that's for sure.  The state said it was going to move houses off the site, and that has yet to happen.  Really, it's good that the Governor corrected himself after saying that all demolition will be done by April.  There are still some major legal issues to deal with - and some big time parties, like OPSB and the Blood Center.

4.  They can start construction today - Really?  Wouldn't that jeopardize the critical HUD funding?  Aren't houses being moved off the site first?  What about the fact that streets necessary for completing the project have not yet been revoked by the city?  It's important to note that the WWLTV shots of construction that served as part of the story were shots from the VA Footprint - not the UMC Footprint, where things are on hold.

5.  They continue to buy properties - And expropriate them.  Just remember that.  Bobby Jindal has some issues when it comes to respecting property rights.  Never once did he mention that the state is using its power of eminent domain to take private property, despite the alternate sites that were and are available.  I hope he talks to the small business owners of the Canal Street Guest House, for example, who are being driven out to make way for the project.

Overall, I would have hoped for far more searching follow up questions from Mr. Paulsen.  The only positive was the Governor's mention of working with the city to save McDonogh No. 11, which would be good.  I'm genuinely glad that the state recognizes the building's importance.  But, as I've laid out here earlier, it's premature to talk of moving the building when the money is not in hand.  And when it may cost less to change the design and incorporate the building...than to move it.

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