Lawmakers again fail to make oil spill money spending plan

(Craig Ford)

Mississippi lawmakers still can't agree on how to spend part of the state's compensation from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Posted: Mar 27, 2018 12:55 PM
Updated: Mar 27, 2018 2:55 PM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi lawmakers still can't agree on how to spend part of the state's compensation from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

House and Senate negotiators missed a Monday night deadline to create a plan for distributing what will eventually amount to more than $700 million in economic damages from oil company BP PLC.

The failure likely means already-collected money, which can't be spent without legislative appropriation, will stay banked in the state's rainy day fund for another year.

Rep. Scott DeLano of Biloxi and Sen. Brice Wiggins of Pascagoula, both Republicans, said Tuesday that negotiators came close to an agreement on House Bill 1185 , which would have designated 75 to 80 percent of the money to projects on Mississippi's Gulf Coast.

Although Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and senators had previously taken the position that all the money should go to coastal counties, a number of non-coastal House members had voiced support for spending the money on roads and bridges statewide.

"We were both trying to get something for the coast and a deal that could pass the House," Wiggins said.

Gulf Coast House members had originally proposed an 80 percent share for the coast, and the Senate had agreed, but House members later lowered their target to 75 percent. The real sticking point, though, was when House negotiators proposed that some of the money for areas away from the coast be designated for specific road projects that failed in legislation earlier this year.

"That blew it up," Wiggins said. Senators objected, wanting instead to make spending decisions next year, he said.

DeLano held out hope that an agreement could still be ironed out and Gov. Phil Bryant would call a special session as the regular session nears its close. Senators, though, regard that prospect as unlikely. Lawmakers could adjourn as early as Wednesday.

Mississippi is being paid the money over a series of years in return for lost tax revenue after a 2005 explosion unleashed millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Some money has already been received and spent.

House members had proposed to put most money into a fund that would be controlled by appointed trustees, not lawmakers. However, Wiggins said, negotiators agreed during talks that lawmakers would appropriate the money, advised by an outside board that would examine projects.

Mississippi lawmakers once pledged to save a $4 billion tobacco settlement over 25 years. But under budget pressures during the Great Recession, lawmakers drained the tobacco trust fund and now roll yearly payments into the state budget.

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