It’s hot as can be outside, but it’s Christmas in July for elected officials who have BP settlement money to spend.
In Jefferson Parish, it appears part of the money may go to pay raises for parish employees, a nice thing if you are running for office this year.
The Parish Council is falling all over itself to support 5 percent pay raises to almost all Jefferson government employees, although not council members, retroactive to the beginning of this year. One council member, Ben Zahn, suggested the parish could use some of its $45 million in BP money to fund the pay boosts.
This is an election year, and government employees vote reliably. But parish taxpayers — and there are more of them — are less likely to be impressed, for the raises and the prospect of paying for them with oil spill money are both bad public policy.
To begin with, Jefferson voters are about to elect a new parish president and council. So the raise issue should be theirs to decide next year.
Moreover, a more sensible plan is to tilt the raises toward jobs that are harder to fill rather than spread the money evenly around.
Finally, the parish and its leaders need to dream bigger when it comes to spending the BP funds.
The BP settlement includes payments to parish governments and cities, intended as compensation for the costs and economic dislocations caused by the spill. Chip Kline, head of the state’s coastal restoration agency, said those particular funds are for local governments to spend. But he also stressed to the Press Club of Baton Rouge that the many projects in the 2012 coastal master plan will need money from all sorts of sources, beyond the sums from the BP settlements.
The purists would doubtless hope that the BP money be spent entirely for coastal restoration and protection. We hope that across the state, including places like Baton Rouge far removed from direct impact of the oil spill, the money is spent for conservation purposes. But that will require pressure from the public, we suspect, to keep officials focused on the one-time nature of this windfall.
In Jefferson in particular, the School Board voted for a one-time bonus for teachers and support workers, using only part of its BP haul. That’s not ideal either, but obviously it’s a more responsible use of the cash than a permanent raise that would cost money year after year.
But it’s still a sign that this cash is going to burn holes in the pockets of elected bodies across Louisiana.