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 24 Blogger Robert Mann posts this entry about the Baton Rouge Chamber's recent report on Louisiana's higher education system. It's critical to economic development, and yet our system is facing a "funding crisis" with no way to resolve it, the report says. The Chamber says control of tuition and fees must be returned to the higher ed governing boards.
MAY 24 Here's a NBC33 story about Tyrann Mathieu. He has signed with the Arizona Cardinals, inking a $3 million, four-year deal. He gets a signing bonus of $265K, but gets another, larger bonus if he doesn't get cut from the team for doing drugs. The deal reportedly includes mandatory tests and meetings for the player.
MAY 24 Jarvis DeBerry posts here about the redonkulus rhetoric that would have us believe NOLA is a safe city with a murder problem. Maybe the city's crime stats don't compare with its murder stats because you can't manipulate a murder, he says: a dead body's a dead body. It just doesn't make sense, he says, and his readers agree: a poll asks if they believe the city is safe, and more than 90 percent say no.
MAY 24 Jindal administration officials announced Thursday that the privatization of public health care is going to cost a lot more than they budgeted for, the Advocate reports here. "I'm so surprised," said no one. Anywhere. The cost they're projecting now is more than $1 billion - a lot more than the $626 million budgeted for it. And, it's more than it cost the state to operate those hospitals. So why are we doing this again?
MAY 24 Blogger CB Forgotston ridicules the recent PR campaign by the state GOP in the wake of a legislative auditor's request to both major parties. The GOP (apparently unaware that the Dems got the same request) started yammering about being targeted because it had "killed" a tax increase. CB finds that laughable, but it's also pretty funny that the GOP was comparing this episode to the IRS scandal (Because the President has so much to do with our state auditor. Right?).
MAY 24 Politico details some recent fund-raising efforts by Sen. David Vitter, which have raised the question of his future political plans. This time, it is a $5,000 per head "bayou weekend" that includes "Cajun cooking" and an all-caps "alligator hunt," the story reports. Funds raised go to a super PAC that can spend money to support Vitter in federal or state races, the story points out.
MAY 24 The pink building on Royal in the quarter was sold at a sheriff's sale Thursday, this Picayune story reports. An injunction that would have halted the sale wasn't enforced because the family failed to post a $150,000 bond, the story reports. So the owner of the mortgages on the building bought it, for nearly $7 million. Now the feuding family will have to negotiate with that company to get a lease on the building that has housed their business for close to 60 years.
MAY 23 This post in Louisiana Voice tells us about a bill by a Winnsboro lege that would require all public high school students to take at least one Course Choice online class in order to graduate. (What?) Blogger Tom Aswell says it's a monument to "waste and corruption," especially in light of the problems he's exposed with the program in recent weeks. Idaho had a similar program, but voters removed it by a 2-1 margin, Aswell says.
There will soon be a whole lot of shakin’ going on at Benny’s Sportshack Supplement Depot, a new concept by Opelousas native Benny Nele. Located at 2002 Johnston St., the supplement shop, smoothie bar and café, featuring hot off the press paninis and wraps, plans to open in late May.
Philip deMahy Sr., a once respected New Iberia ad exec, was sentenced May 2 to spend the next two years (he faced up to 100 years) in a state penitentiary after state and federal investigators found dozens of images depicting children engaged in lewd sexual acts on his personal computer.