Where are the priorities?

Published 8:18 am Sunday, July 22, 2012

In perhaps one of the biggest ironies Louisiana politics has witnessed in quite some time, word is coming out of Jefferson Parish a performing arts center that is years behind schedule and nearly $20 million over budget is in danger of never raising the curtain.

Officials from the Jefferson Performing Arts Society say state budget cuts and Gov. Bobby Jindal’s veto of three bills that would have extended an auto rental tax have severely jeopardized the future of the organization. Officials claim Jindal’s veto of the tax will strip the organization of $325,000, money they say is required to stage this year’s productions at various venues and to stay afloat in the future.

The JPAS lobbied for more than 30 years for a performing arts center to be built in Metairie, but once started construction has moved at a snail’s pace and the cost overrun has been preposterous. The much-maligned project has become a financial boondoggle yet legislators have continued to funnel tax dollars into the thespian money pit while health care has been trampled on and education pushed to the back burner.

Yet, with hands extended, single-minded supporters of the arts center continue their assault on the Louisiana Legislature, seeking even more money for their troubled project.

In the meantime, the LSU medical system, already gutted by Jindal’s gubernatorial axe, is likely to face additional cuts of millions of dollars, potentially affecting the quality of healthcare for thousands of residents. Other medical facilities are also facing similar reductions.

In Washington and St. Tammany parishes a proposed highway that would create economic development for both areas will likely never be built because of funding shortages.

Police forces around the state continue to be financially strapped while crime rates rise.

Where are the priorities? When does quality of life, which a performing arts center would certainly enhance, trump sustainability of life, such as adequate health care, quality in the classroom or a safe environment?

When does it end?

Unfortunately, legislators are likely to cave in to JPAS officials and find the additional funding needed to finish a theatre that is infinitely more of a luxury than a necessity. This should not be allowed to happen and the spigot must be cut off but at this point the building is likely too far advanced to pull the plug, even though the final price tag of more than $40 million far exceeds the original $20-million estimate.

An uncompleted building would be an eyesore and a black mark on the political resumes of all involved. Yet, an unfinished shell might just be a fitting tribute to the follies that are Louisiana politics.