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: 110592

Reported Deaths: 3171
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds7731171
DeSoto655177
Harrison478481
Jackson429178
Rankin380086
Madison371092
Lee339279
Forrest292777
Jones281682
Washington250697
Lafayette241342
Lauderdale2329130
Lamar212038
Bolivar197775
Oktibbeha194154
Neshoba1795111
Lowndes173662
Panola164736
Leflore158786
Sunflower156749
Warren151854
Monroe143672
Pontotoc143019
Pike135555
Lincoln133954
Copiah133336
Marshall130026
Coahoma122836
Scott122729
Grenada119637
Simpson117648
Yazoo116933
Union113825
Holmes113060
Tate112339
Leake111839
Itawamba108724
Pearl River107456
Adams104042
Prentiss100919
Wayne97921
Alcorn94412
George93217
Marion92642
Covington90825
Tippah84820
Newton84227
Chickasaw81724
Tallahatchie81725
Winston81421
Tishomingo78640
Hancock76527
Attala76325
Clarke70948
Clay66621
Jasper66016
Walthall63427
Calhoun60912
Noxubee59516
Smith57716
Claiborne53016
Montgomery52723
Tunica51817
Lawrence48914
Yalobusha47914
Perry47522
Carroll45812
Greene44717
Stone44614
Amite41513
Quitman4096
Humphreys39916
Jefferson Davis39311
Webster36313
Wilkinson32920
Kemper31615
Benton3004
Sharkey27714
Jefferson26210
Franklin2283
Choctaw2036
Issaquena1063
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 152272

Reported Deaths: 2621
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson22300372
Mobile14273314
Tuscaloosa9886132
Montgomery9615196
Madison895192
Shelby700260
Lee643066
Baldwin636967
Marshall425348
Calhoun408459
Etowah399149
Morgan393232
Houston362332
DeKalb313326
Elmore308152
St. Clair276742
Limestone268327
Walker264192
Talladega253634
Cullman223923
Lauderdale204340
Autauga198928
Franklin198131
Jackson197914
Russell18993
Colbert188927
Dallas184527
Blount182723
Chilton178731
Escambia170328
Covington164429
Coffee16299
Dale161551
Pike130112
Tallapoosa126986
Chambers126643
Clarke126116
Marion103929
Butler99640
Barbour9819
Marengo96421
Winston88613
Geneva8297
Pickens79317
Randolph79314
Lawrence78830
Bibb78513
Hale73729
Cherokee71414
Clay70312
Lowndes69827
Bullock63417
Henry6286
Monroe6259
Washington62012
Crenshaw58830
Perry5796
Conecuh55413
Wilcox55412
Fayette54012
Macon52819
Cleburne5207
Sumter46421
Lamar4555
Choctaw38612
Greene33316
Coosa1963
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