State has struggled to make team payments

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Gov. Kathleen Blanco has signed into law a bill that puts the Saints in line for some tax money generated when slot machines start operating at the New Orleans Fair Grounds -- as part of the state's ongoing struggles to make its annual payments to the NFL team.

The slot machines are expected to go online in 2007, but officials say that won't bring in enough cash to cover the annual Saints payments and the money borrowed for the payments this year and last year.

The annual payments to the Saints are part of a 10-year, $186 million agreement negotiated by Gov. Mike Foster's administration
in 2001. The governor hopes to ultimately renegotiate the deal, but Saints owner Tom Benson has cut off negotiations until the end of the 2005 football season.

For two years, the state has borrowed money to pay the team,
including a loan to write the check due earlier this month.

Under the bill by Rep. Peppi Bruneau, R-New Orleans, the Saints' payment will fall after $2 million paid to a line of New Orleans
area projects, including beautification projects, park renovations
and other sports events.

Bruneau has said estimates of the taxes that would be generated
annually by the slots at the fair grounds range from $6 million to
$12 million.