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Senate approves bill dividing $700M in oil spill damages

Mississippi senators late Tuesday approved a bill to divide up $700 million in oil spill damages, setting aside more than $100 million overall for special projects.

Posted: Aug 29, 2018 9:23 AM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi senators late Tuesday approved a bill to divide up $700 million in oil spill damages, setting aside more than $100 million overall for special projects.

The Senate voted 42-8 in favor of the bill after only brief debate that included one senator reading the entire list of 128 earmarked projects. The measure moves to the House for more debate, likely on Wednesday.

"I think it's safe to say the majority of benefits are to the coast," said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Joey Fillingane, a Sumrall Republican.

The subject became part of the special session when Gov. Phil Bryant widened the agenda to include it after lawmakers passed bills to send transportation aid to cities and counties and create a state lottery to add funding to the state Transportation Department for the next 10 years.

BP PLC is paying a total of $750 million to Mississippi through 2033 to make up for lost tax revenue from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Lawmakers have already spent $52.4 million of the money, but nearly $100 million is sitting in the bank and 15 yearly payments of $40 million a year will begin in 2019.

Overall, Mississippi is likely to get more than $2.4 billion from all sources to pay for environmental and economic damages from the spill.

The Legislature has been stymied in previous attempts to divide the damage money, with one proposal collapsing at the end of the regular session earlier this year when House and Senate negotiators couldn't agree.

Senate Bill 2002 would give at least 72 percent of money to Hancock, Harrison, Jackson, and parts of George, Stone and Pearl River counties and the rest to the remaining 76 counties.

The plan would take $53 million of the $100 million in BP money in the bank, and combine it with $50 million borrowed earlier and set aside to spend on special projects that some deride as pork. It would also set aside $9 million in BP money for railroad and railroad crossing improvements statewide.

Some of those special projects are on the Gulf Coast but most are spread elsewhere across the state. Senators representing Jackson complained the bill includes only two projects worth a little more than $1 million total. The largest projects include new roads in Rankin and Madison counties, at $8 million each. Many projects are in the districts of influential committee chairmen.

Some of the special project money may have been promised to lawmakers in exchange for support on special session issues.

"These projects are being decided based on backroom deals, and all so this bill will pass," said Sen. David Blount, a Jackson Democrat who opposed the bill.

Of the remainder of the $100 million, about $27 million would go to coast projects, while $9 million would remain in a state savings account for lawmakers to spend later.

However, some House lawmakers oppose the division, arguing the coast has no special claim to the money, since it was supposed to replace lost tax revenue that would have been spent in state budgets.

Republican Rep. Tracy Arnold of Booneville is circulating a proposal to divide the money among counties and cities based on their share of Mississippi's population. He said his proposal is getting "overwhelming support" and predicted senators would feel pressure from city and county officials to approve it.

"I'm not going to settle for crumbs," Arnold said, when asked about whether legislative leaders were using special projects to get non-coastal lawmakers to vote for the bill. "My people sent me down here to sit at the table."

Coast leaders have repeatedly called for some way to make sure the money is used for high-impact projects. Gulf Coast Business Council CEO Ashley Edwards, for example, is critical of the decision to finance the state's bicentennial celebration out of BP money.

The Mississippi Development Authority would run an application process for the Gulf Coast money, prioritizing projects that would create jobs. Lawmakers would approve grants recommended by MDA each year. MDA could approve loans.

Wiggins said lawmakers had refused to put some other body outside of state government in charge of the coast's portion of the money.

"I think that ship has sailed," Wiggins said.

Lawmakers would control the non-coast money directly each year.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 32214

Reported Deaths: 1158
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds259141
DeSoto172418
Madison132635
Jones114049
Neshoba100473
Rankin98213
Harrison96911
Lauderdale92280
Forrest91643
Scott77915
Jackson68917
Copiah62015
Washington61710
Leake58919
Lee56220
Holmes56041
Oktibbeha55227
Wayne54515
Warren53218
Yazoo5236
Lowndes50913
Grenada5067
Leflore50053
Lamar4917
Lincoln48434
Pike45416
Monroe42534
Sunflower4208
Lafayette4094
Covington3755
Attala36523
Panola3646
Bolivar35618
Newton3479
Simpson3453
Adams31518
Tate31011
Pontotoc3046
Marion30012
Chickasaw28719
Claiborne28410
Winston2808
Noxubee2728
Jasper2676
Pearl River26532
Marshall2583
Clay24911
Smith22911
Union21810
Clarke21025
Coahoma2056
Walthall2056
Lawrence1872
Yalobusha1807
Kemper17914
Carroll16811
Humphreys1569
Tallahatchie1454
Calhoun1414
Montgomery1392
Tippah13811
Itawamba1378
Hancock13413
Webster12711
Jefferson Davis1134
Tunica1133
Jefferson1103
Prentiss1103
Greene1059
Amite1043
Wilkinson939
George913
Tishomingo891
Quitman811
Choctaw754
Alcorn742
Perry724
Stone692
Franklin452
Benton420
Sharkey370
Issaquena101
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 45263

Reported Deaths: 1007
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson5486155
Montgomery4246105
Mobile4219136
Tuscaloosa234644
Marshall177011
Madison15548
Lee143337
Shelby135724
Morgan11285
Walker98525
Baldwin9809
Elmore96215
Dallas9109
Franklin90216
Etowah79013
DeKalb7615
Chambers64327
Autauga63612
Butler63228
Tallapoosa60469
Russell5680
Unassigned52226
Limestone5181
Houston5106
Lauderdale5016
Lowndes47821
Cullman4705
Pike4525
Colbert4266
St. Clair4162
Escambia4118
Calhoun3875
Coffee3863
Covington3727
Bullock36810
Barbour3572
Talladega3237
Marengo31711
Hale31521
Dale3020
Jackson3022
Wilcox2948
Sumter28512
Clarke2836
Winston2663
Chilton2622
Blount2511
Monroe2412
Pickens2386
Marion23613
Conecuh2177
Randolph2169
Macon1999
Choctaw19712
Bibb1961
Greene1868
Perry1791
Henry1363
Crenshaw1253
Washington1187
Lawrence1090
Cherokee1037
Geneva840
Lamar801
Fayette721
Clay692
Coosa591
Cleburne391
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