Coastal restoration advocates are up in arms over an amendment inserted into a bill that would direct fines paid by BP and other companies linked to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill to the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Fund. House Bill 812 by Rep. Simone Champagne, R-Jeanerette, was amended Tuesday by the Senate Finance Committee to allow state lawmakers to siphon off the penalty money for virtually anything, provided that diversion of cash is approved by two thirds of each chamber of the Legislature:
The legislature, by a favorable vote of two-thirds of the elected members of each house, may authorize the expenditures of monies received by the state under the provisions of this paragraph for any purposes not prohibited by this constitution or by Congress. Any such authorization shall be approved by passage of a specific legislative instrument which clearly states the purposes for which the monies will be expended.
The bill as amended is before the full Senate, and opponents of the amendment argue it sends the wrong message to the U.S. Congress, which is reportedly close to passing the RESTORE Act, a bill that would send 80 percent of any Clean Water Act fines levied for the BP spill to the five Gulf Coast states.
On Thursday Blueprint Louisiana, a statewide good-government group comprising civic and business leaders, chimed its concern with the amendment:
While Blueprint is on record for supporting budget flexibility measures allowed by current state law, there are limited circumstances when a dedication is necessary. The Deepwater Horizon incident is one such instance, where the impact was on the coast and where we must demonstrate our commitment to restoration in order to maximize the benefit to Louisiana. The language of the Congressional RESTORE Act dedicates fines from BP and other responsible parties to coastal restoration. We should honor Congress’ wishes as well as our commitment to Louisiana’s coastal communities to ensure that this money is used to rebuild our coast.
We now have a comprehensive master plan for our coast. Let’s show the rest of the nation we can deliver on that plan with money resulting from any environmental fines and violations from the Deepwater Horizon incident. Thank you for your service.
Chris Macaluso, coastal outreach coordinator for the Louisiana Wildlife Federation, issued a press release following the Senate Finance action urging lawmakers to rethink the amendment:
It essentially derails the intent of the legislation...
This amendment sends absolutely the wrong message to Congress, particularly at a time when the RESTORE Act is being considered and is so close to passage. Louisiana’s message to Congress needs to be clear and specific that Clean Water Act penalty money will be spent on coastal restoration and on nothing else. In my extensive talks with congressmen and congressional staff regarding RESTORE, the biggest concern about passing such a powerful piece of legislation was mistrust that Louisiana’s Legislature would do the right thing with the money.
This amendment, to what is otherwise a very good piece of legislation and a good constitutional amendment, confirms those fears. Some legislators want to get their hands on this money and spend it on whatever whim or budget hole that needs to be filled.
MAY 17 Here's a column from James Gill, this time in the Advocate. Gill, who has jumped ship from the Picayune, writes about the absurdity of dueling polls in this post. The numbers are so wildly different, it is obvious that both sides are "cooking the books," he writes. In particular, he looks at Sen. Mary Landrieu, and how her recent actions in DC have been received by those polled. Gill's acerbic, amusing prose is a welcome addition to a paper so conservative as to be occasionally lacking in personality.
MAY 17 Blogger Tom Aswell continues delivering bombshells about the state education department and Gov. Jindal's education "reform" efforts. In this post, he reports that students in the Shreveport area have been signed up for a charter school without their knowledge or consent. Most interesting to Aswell is how this Texas-based charter (with ties to GOP types) got the personal student information it has, if the students didn't give it.
MAY 17 This post by JR Ball in the Baton Rouge Business Report is an interesting tongue-in-cheek look at recent Baton Rouge economic development efforts. Among the items he examines is the idea that gaining a Costco makes BR a "world-class city." (Really? All you need is a different brand of Sam's? MK!) This effort, and other recent ones, are all built on the taxpayer's back, with tax zones, tax incentives and tax rebates, Ball writes.
MAY 17 Blogger CB Forgotston is critical of the legislature's reliance on a revenue-estimating committee's decision to include projected tax amnesty income in this year's forecast. That's a problem, CB posts, because the deadline for these people to pay their taxes is June 30, 2014. So when do you think these people who haven't paid taxes in years are going to pay their taxes? Surely not before June 30, and that means the money won't be there for this year's budget, he argues.
MAY 17 Here's an interesting blog out of California by a Hollywood writer, attorney and academic named Brian Alan Lane. He blogs about higher ed, and was a whistle-blower in a scandal over false credentials. In this post, he takes aim at LSU's new top dog, King Alexander. It's convoluted and a little confusing, but it sure makes Alexander a lot more interesting than he was yesterday.
MAY 17 Blogger Robert Mann writes about the LSU Board's refusal to allow Dr. Fred Cerise to testify before the legislature about Gov. Jindal's plan to close down all the state's charity hospitals and dump the poor on the private system. It's hard to imagine anyone more qualified than Cerise to testify about that, so why would anyone try to prevent him doing so? Mann thinks it is because the powers that be aren't interested in hearing any truth about the plan.
MAY 17 This post on the Louisiana Sinkhole Bugle, a blog that notes developments in the Bayou Corne and Jefferson Island salt domes, talks about a proposed expansion of the salt dome storage under Lake Peigneur in Iberia Parish. Residents are working against it for several reasons, including two biggies: the sinkhole disaster in Bayou Corne and the continuing, unexplained bubbling on the surface of the Lake.
MAY 17 NOLA police arrested more people Thursday accused of either being involved in the Mother's Day shooting or hiding the suspect afterward, this Gambit story reports. The NOLA police chief said he suspects the whole thing was gang-related and throws out a challenge to the gangs: he's got informants now, he says, and he knows a lot more than the gangs want him to know. The people who live in the neighborhoods terrorized by gangs are ready to talk, he says.
Is it a crime for citizens to photograph, video, or take notes of a police officer in the line of duty, or a right protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution? Locally, such activity, as witnessed recently, will at the very least result in a night spent behind bars.
David Calhoun and Elizabeth “EB” Brooks are the first two employees of Lafayette Central Park Inc., the nonprofit charged with turning Lafayette Consolidated Government’s 100-acre Johnston Street Horse Farm property into a passive public park. Calhoun was named executive director, and Brooks is director of planning and design.
Episcopal School of Acadiana’s Dr. Joshua Caffery, chair of the school’s English Department, is headed to Washington, D.C., and the Library of Congress as the latest winner of the Alan Lomax Fellowship in Folklife Studies.