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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.

Cases: 266598

Reported Deaths: 5852
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto17807191
Hinds16967332
Harrison14298204
Rankin11280221
Jackson10976190
Lee9088145
Madison8619169
Jones6782118
Forrest6236124
Lauderdale6128192
Lowndes5564120
Lafayette5229101
Lamar507465
Washington4951125
Bolivar4149109
Oktibbeha409482
Panola388281
Pontotoc378560
Warren3698103
Monroe3693110
Marshall358570
Union357764
Pearl River3508106
Neshoba3499154
Leflore3122109
Lincoln307688
Hancock296362
Sunflower293075
Tate281162
Alcorn273554
Pike271081
Itawamba270063
Scott260849
Yazoo257156
Prentiss254554
Coahoma251555
Copiah250749
Tippah250150
Simpson243872
Leake238467
Marion225973
Grenada224272
Covington222473
Adams215371
Wayne215034
Winston207771
George204839
Newton200046
Attala197464
Tishomingo195661
Chickasaw189644
Jasper182538
Holmes172268
Clay167537
Tallahatchie157535
Stone152925
Clarke148662
Calhoun141822
Smith130726
Yalobusha123835
Walthall115037
Greene114529
Noxubee114126
Montgomery112736
Lawrence107617
Carroll106922
Perry105331
Amite102426
Webster97424
Claiborne89725
Tunica89321
Jefferson Davis88930
Benton86523
Humphreys84824
Kemper81020
Quitman7149
Franklin70717
Choctaw63813
Wilkinson59925
Jefferson57121
Sharkey45717
Issaquena1606
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 443009

Reported Deaths: 6662
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson649101007
Mobile31746574
Madison28413217
Tuscaloosa21566275
Montgomery20088332
Shelby19452132
Baldwin17333189
Lee13261107
Morgan12678142
Etowah12141181
Calhoun11555206
Marshall10487123
Houston9031164
Limestone838181
Cullman8296124
Elmore8243110
Lauderdale7946107
DeKalb7900107
St. Clair7876130
Talladega6523112
Walker6050183
Jackson603245
Colbert558194
Blount548586
Autauga540762
Coffee466964
Dale412785
Franklin377550
Russell358415
Chilton346873
Covington340880
Escambia339244
Tallapoosa3163109
Dallas313696
Chambers305470
Clarke303336
Pike265231
Lawrence255855
Marion254661
Winston234742
Bibb222948
Geneva213047
Marengo210531
Pickens200431
Hale186144
Barbour183438
Fayette178829
Butler174860
Cherokee166031
Henry160025
Monroe152621
Randolph146636
Washington142727
Clay130746
Crenshaw124845
Macon122837
Cleburne122125
Lamar120622
Lowndes116836
Wilcox108322
Bullock104628
Perry100518
Conecuh98022
Sumter90627
Greene77923
Coosa64018
Choctaw52124
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