A Simple Solution to Fix Louisiana’s Coastal Fund
Updated BelowPelicans used to flock to Cat Island in Louisiana to nest, but it was one of many islands that was heavily damaged by the oil spill. The island, once full of mangroves and pelican nests, has degraded as the oil choked vegetation. Now there are no mangroves, no nests and Cat Island is washing away. The State of Louisiana set up the Coastal Protection and Restoration Fund to restore coastal areas and wildlife habitats affected by the oil spill such as Cat Island. But Louisiana’s restoration fund—just like the coast it was created to protect—is threatened. Louisiana has a great plan to restore its coastal wetlands, the Master Plan, and the people of Louisiana voted to dedicate all their BP and offshore oil and gas revenues to the Coastal Fund to pay for it. However, a loophole allows money to be passed through the Coastal Fund—so that it can fill state budget gaps that have nothing to do with the coast!
The main concern is a financing tactic that has been implemented in Louisiana within the last 2-3 years as a creative solution to attempt to balance the state’s ailing budget.
The state’s constitution prohibits using one-time money for recurring costs, such as health care and higher education, the administration. However, some lawmakers believe they can get around that rule by using the Coastal Fund to funnel money between state programs, which can accept such one-time monies. State officials have repeatedly said that these transfers are allowable under state law. In 2012 the so-called “fund sweep” bill (Act 597) provided for transfer of over $21 million of state non-recurring revenue from the state general fund to the Coastal Fund, and then the same value was transferred from the Coastal Fund into the state’s general fund and treated as recurring revenues. In 2013 another attempt was made to place more than $87 million of 2011-12 surplus dollars into the Coastal Fund, and then provided for that same value ($87.3 million) in “recurring” revenues to be placed into the state’s general fund (though amendment to SB 226 that did not ultimately make its way into law). And this session, nearly $51 million in non-recurring revenue are slated to be transferred from the Office of Debt Collection, initiatives from the Department of Revenue and other sources, into the Coastal Fund, and then taken from that fund to pay for education, elderly affairs and libraries.
The perception of impropriety created by these budget tactics sends the wrong message to federal partners in charge of allocating and tracking dollars from Clean Water Act Fines related to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and related sources of funding.
Closing the Loophole
Louisiana’s Coastal Fund should NOT be used as a tool for balancing today’s budget. Right now we have the opportunity to defend the Coastal Fund. Louisiana House Bill 490 ensures that the Coastal Fund is used ONLY for coastal protection and restoration projects. The bill adds succinct, qualifying language that would prohibit not only appropriations from the Coastal Fund, but also pass-through transfers. HB490 would take effect by next year’s budget process, closing the loophole and disallowing the current finagling of the restoration account. Speak up today to support House Bill 490 to close the loophole! Continued use of the coastal fund for accounting manipulation will risk the state’s opportunity for BP oil spill recovery dollars. The House could vote as soon as this week.
Update: Bill Passes in the House, Moves to Senate
La. House Bill 490 passed unanimously out of the House. This bill protects the integrity of the Louisiana Coastal Fund by ensuring it is used as the law intended: for coastal protection and restoration uses only. The bill now moves to the state Senate where we’ll need to continue the fight to ensure that it passes.
Visit the South Central Region page to learn more about our campaign to restore the Mississippi River Delta and other programs in the South and Heartland of America.