Gov. Bobby Jindal’s proposal to use excess Deepwater Horizon settlement money to construct an elevated section of La. 1 in southern Lafourche Parish is opposed by all four candidates seeking to take over his job.
Candidates in the race for state treasurer also voiced opposition and offered alternatives while coastal nonprofit groups ran advertisements last weekend in an attempt to generate public opposition to the proposal as well.
Some candidates went so far as to assure the nonprofit groups that even if a resolution to dictate funding to the road project is passed at the next state coastal authority meeting, the candidates will reverse that decision if elected.
“If I am elected governor, I commit to reversing this policy should it pass at the upcoming Oct. 21 meeting or any subsequent meeting,” Republican Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne wrote in response to a letter from the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana. “Even if such diversion is legal, it is not the right thing to do.”
The issue will be taken up for a vote during the Oct. 21 meeting of the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.
During the Oct. 14 gubernatorial debate, Democratic state Rep. John Bel Edwards said that every dollar the state receives needs to go toward projects outlined in the state’s master plan for coastal restoration and protection. At an estimated cost of $50 billion, there is no such thing as “extra” money that will be left over from the Deepwater Horizon funding, he said.
“If we do that one time, every legislator throughout Louisiana is going to look at that money as a piggy bank,” Edwards said.
Republican Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle said it’s been a long-standing policy of the state that the money would be used for the master plan.
“I absolutely would not allow any money in the BP settlement to be spent on anything else than coastal restoration,” Angelle said.
Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter, in a written statement Friday, said: “While I strongly support La. 1, I oppose this proposal. First, it potentially shifts BP money away from coastal restoration, which must remain our top priority. Second, this is more budget gimmickry and fuzzy math from Bobby Jindal, the sort of stuff that’s helped create the budget mess we’re in.”
Candidates for state treasurer also weighed in, with incumbent John Kennedy saying he’d work with the next governor to come up with alternatives. Challenger Jennifer Treadway said just because the action is legal, doesn’t make it right.
Kennedy called coastal restoration vital to the future of Louisiana. The elevation of La. 1 is also important, but the state can’t divert money from coastal restoration to do it.
Instead, Kennedy said, it’s possible that money could be funded like portions of Interstate 49, via unclaimed property bonds.
He said the state collects $50 million to $100 million a year in unclaimed property. And while attempts are made to return the money, the state now holds about $600 million. Last year the state returned $35 million, but took in about $95 million. Bonding out some of this money could be used for road projects because not everyone is going to claim their money at the same time and some of it will never be claimed. There is always enough remaining to return money when someone comes forward. “No one loses their money,” Kennedy said.
Treadway said she’s against diverting money to a road project when people were told it would be spent on the master plan.
“It always should go to what you told people it would go toward,” she said. “I get (La. 1) is a need, but shouldn’t we be using other funds for that?”
The next Coastal Restoration and Protection Agency will be held at 9:30 a.m. Oct. 21 in the State Capitol House Committee Room 5, 900 N. 3rd St.
Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.