Louisiana’s state senators took aim Thursday at Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office, voting to reverse a $7 million oil spill recovery payment already given to his agency and to redirect other money the office has sitting in escrow.
Both votes were added into budget bills passed unanimously by the Senate. Landry says the first cut could damage his office’s operations, and his office says the second hit could violate legal provisions governing how the escrow money must be used.
The attorney general said he’s trying to get lawmakers to scrap the Senate-approved proposals, which are awaiting debate in the House.
“We are actively working out there to educate legislators to make sure that they understand the impact of those particular cuts,” Landry said.
Reversal of the $7 million payment from the oil spill settlement, he said, threatens his agency’s work to fight cybercrime and crimes against children and to make payroll, with only one month remaining in the budget year.
Senators say the recent transfer of oil spill money wasn’t handled properly.
Finance Committee Chairman Eric LaFleur said under the Senate plan, the $7 million would be moved to Gov. John Bel Edwards’ coastal office. The coastal office, LaFleur said, would reimburse Landry’s office for any legal expenses tied to its work on the multibillion-dollar oil spill litigation settlement with BP PLC.
LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, expects the attorney general to receive at least $4.3 million.
“We don’t want to give money to the attorney general for expenses that are not an allowable reimbursement,” LaFleur said. “He can get the full $7 million if he can produce the appropriate documentation to justify the reimbursement.”
Landry’s office said the budget bills don’t even guarantee the minimum payment. The attorney general said if his agency doesn’t get the money, “it would create a constitutional crisis inside the department.”
The attorney general blamed Edwards for the cut, amid continued disagreements between the two statewide elected officials.
“That has the governor’s fingerprints all over it,” Landry said.
But LaFleur said the budget proposals came from senators.
“It’s not the governor. It’s these guys,” he said, pointing to his colleagues.
The Democratic governor and the Republican attorney general have disagreed over the flow of oil spill settlement money. Treasurer John Kennedy has received competing requests for settlement money and asked lawmakers to give him guidance about the dollars.
Edwards spokesman Richard Carbo said the BP money should reimburse agencies that paid for litigation expenses. If Landry’s office gets paid more than his unreimbursed expenses, that would take money away from ongoing coastal restoration work, Carbo said.
“The administration is committed to ensuring that the BP funds go where they were intended and will be used for coastal projects consistent with the master plan,” Carbo said in a statement.
Under the Senate proposal, another $7 million would be removed from an escrow fund in the Attorney General’s Office to fill a hole in the K-12 public school financing formula before the state budget year ends June 30.
While the Attorney General’s Office said it has about $19 million in the fund, the money is held for other agencies and has legal restrictions on how it can be spent. A cut to that fund, however, wouldn’t hit Landry’s agency, but the other state departments where the money is eventually supposed to flow.