/Bryant would delay spending BP settlement

Bryant would delay spending BP settlement

The hot topic of the upcoming legislative session, which begins in less 50 days, is what to do about the $109 million that BP received from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon drilling incident. Bryant recommends that the money received from BP earlier in the year be placed in a separate reserve account. Bryant suggested that lawmakers could draw from this fund starting in 2018. In July, the $150 million first part of the BP settlement worth $750 million arrived. However, lawmakers had already allocated $41 million from the check in March for specific projects in coastal counties. The $109.6 million remaining is still in the state’s treasury. The state will start receiving payments of $40 million per year from 2019 through 2033. Bryant stated in his proposal that he would recommend that the majority of the money be used on projects related to the sustainability and prosperity of the Coast, which was the worst affected by the oil spillage. This proposal is in line with the governor’s previous stated desire to keep most of the BP settlement money within the three Gulf Coast counties. During the January 4th legislative session, lawmakers will likely clash over how to spend the BP funds. The majority of settlement checks should be left on the Coast by Gulf Coast lawmakers. Bryant and Philip Gunn, the House Speaker, have expressed previously their desire to keep the money at the Coast. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves hosted two BP settlement townhalls on the Coast in just two months and promised residents that he would do all he could to make sure the majority of the settlement remained on the Coast. However, the potential legislative vote numbers are overwhelming in favor of the Coastal legislators. 16 of the 122 House representatives hail from the Coast counties. Seven of the 52 senators from the Senate are Coast county residents. Officials in other parts see settlement checks as a way of funding much-needed projects like road and bridge repairs or public education projects. “I appreciate the governor’s concern for the Coast, but ultimately it will be the Legislature that decides,” stated Sen. Brice Wiggins (D-Pascagoula). “His proposal that the money be set aside for Coastal projects is great in theory. I appreciate the fact that the governor has stated that the money should be used on the Coast.” Many legislators tried to resolve the issue during the 2016 session. Many bills were introduced by both sides to direct the money in different ways. None passed. The House minority leader, Rep. David Baria (D-Bay St. Louis), introduced legislation last session to create a separate entity that would disburse 80% of the BP settlement funds for oil spillage recovery efforts in the counties and municipalities affected by the spill. The bill and many others relating to the BP funds also died in committee. Baria stated this week that he appreciates the governor’s desire for the Coast to have the money, but he wondered if it was prudent to leave the fund in the hands lawmakers. He suggested that a separate commission or board be created, which would allow the Coastal officials or appointees to make decisions about how the money should be spent. Baria stated that the Legislature has a history of getting into a tight spot and robbing accounts intended for other purposes. While everyone is acting in good faith, what happens if Trump’s governor is appointed or there’s an opening in the (U.S. Senate), and Gunn or Reeves are called up? These positions would have new people who may not be as bound by previous decisions. “You never know what might happen.” Even legislators have their own ideas on how to spend the money. The bill was drafted by a council of Gulf Coast mayors. It would allow 80 percent of settlement funds to be diverted into a trust consisting of Coast officials. Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs (a former lawmaker) stated last month that he would like $1.5 million in settlement funds to fund tourism projects in the river town. Flaggs stated in October that the BP money must be distributed throughout the state. Flaggs stated that the BP oil disaster affected everyone. It not only stopped tourism along the Coast, but also all along the Delta and Mississippi rivers. Our reporters give a human face to policy’s impact on everyday Mississippians by listening more closely and understanding their communities. To ensure that our work is aligned with the priorities and needs of all Mississippians, we are listening to you. Click the button below to let us know what you think.