Last week, as Americans across the country prepared for a long Memorial Day weekend, lawmakers in the alternate universe of the Louisiana Legislature seemed to be honoring another holiday.
It looked like Christmas had come to the State Capitol, courtesy of one-time money being doled out to give favored legislative districts a little something extra under the tree.
As a result of the massive 2010 BP oil leak off Louisiana’s coast, the state is getting about $700 million over 13 years from the energy company to satisfy a legal settlement addressing damage from the disaster.
Prudence would argue for using the money in a way that addresses broadly shared statewide needs. Under current rules, the settlement money is divided among the state’s Rainy Day fund, Medicaid Trust Fund and Health Trust Fund.
But lawmakers eager to lay on the election-year pork have embraced a bill that raids the BP money for parochial projects on the home turf of legislators who’ve scrambled to the top of Santa’s list.
House Bill 578 started out as legislation to use some of the BP money to pay for a major road project in West Baton Rouge Parish — the La. 415 connector aimed at reducing chronic traffic congestion in the region.
But what began as a $275 million measure for two projects has now ballooned to a nearly $700 million piece of legislation for 10 projects, all of them drawing on the BP money to help cover the costs.
Obviously, as HB 578 works its way through the Legislature, lawmakers are larding it up with pet projects of their own. After passing the House, the bill sailed through the Senate Finance Committee last week and is expected to be considered by the full Senate soon.
Raiding the one-time money allows politicians to pay for long-delayed infrastructure without making harder choices, like raising the state’s gas tax. That tax, which hasn’t been hiked in decades, helps pay for basic maintenance and improvements for roads and bridges. The failure of state leaders to address the risings costs of projects has created an estimated $14 billion backlog of infrastructure needs.
Instead of long-term solutions, State Capitol insiders are poised to blow through a one-time windfall to address just a handful of infrastructure projects for the favored few.
Christmas is in full swing at the Capitol, and as with so many yuletides, celebrants will avoid worrying about the real costs until later on.