Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry (R) successfully urged the Louisiana Bond Commission on Thursday to delay a $39 million future line of credit for the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board–which the city needs for its flood response–until city officials agree to enforce the state’s abortion ban. The move comes right at the start of hurricane season, on the same day New Orleans has issued a flood advisory.
The financing that’s being held hostage would, specifically, be used to build a power station for the Sewerage & Water Board to help combat flooding. Melinda Deslatte, a research director at Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, live-tweeted today’s meeting, in which Republican politicians decided to punish New Orleans, a Democratic stronghold in the state, for defending abortion rights in the wake of a near-total ban. (Officials in New Orleans, including even the police, have vowed not to enforce the state’s new ban, which has already pushed out all three of its abortion clinics.)
Paul Rainwater, a lobbyist for the city of New Orleans, told Landry that holding up the funds puts “a lot of people at risk” and that Republican leaders should “find something non-essential to go after, not the sewerage and water board.” Flooding in New Orleans, a notorious hurricane hot-spot, can be deadly: Nearly 2,000 people died, for instance, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Louisiana state senator Jimmy Harris, a Democrat from New Orleans, pointed out in the meeting that when the Bond Commission first delayed these funds in July, there was actual floodwater in the city’s streets. The power plant, he said, is expected to protect an estimated 384,000 people. Even Republican state senator Bret Allain warned that because the sewerage and water board is a state-created agency, he finds it “problematic” to target New Orleans over their abortion stance.
Landry reportedly claimed the state should be able to use the “tools at our disposal” to make New Orleans enforce the state’s abortion ban. The Advocate’s Sam Karlin reports that the attorney general said, “If you look at the first four letters of politics, it’s P-O-L-I, it’s the first four letters of policy.”
Landry, who’s likely running for governor in 2023, issued a direct ultimatum to New Orleans: Enforce the abortion ban, or let your residents suffer in heavy floods. “Now, the shoe is on their foot,” he said. “If they want this project to move forward, rescind the resolution.”
Landry got his way, and the Bond Commission voted 7-6 to delay the funding.
Rainwater (yes, that’s actually his name!) spoke with Jezebel after the vote and said it’s “critical” for New Orleans to get the funding for this ambitious project, which has been in the works since 2017. “To be very clear, we’ve got to keep this project going forward so it can be completed by 2024,” he told me. “It’s amazingly critical to this city to protect lives.”
Rainwater said that 25 percent of the state’s economy comes from New Orleans, and so in addition to protecting residents’ lives, it would also protect the economy and assets like the Superdome and Audubon Park. He said the issue of abortion should be “decoupled” from the vote on funding. “The bond commission is for discussing the financing of infrastructure and borrowing money. It’s not to talk about issues like abortion or gun control. It’s just not.”
As today’s meeting was taking place, a flood advisory was issued in New Orleans. August begins peak hurricane season in the city, which sits below sea level and has a notoriously untrustworthy levy and rainwater pump system.