With the federal government about to open a fiscal spigot that will send tens of millions of dollars toward Louisiana's coastline, efforts to protect and restore the coast are expected to flourish in coming years. Meanwhile, state lawmakers are exploring ways to keep administrative costs in check. Louisiana has already started receiving a share of the dollars generated by Outer Continental Shelf energy activity, whether it's oil and gas or turbines and solar. It's trickling in now — about $600,000 so far this year and $300,000 forecast next year — but much more is set to come.
Beginning in 2017, the real money will begin to fill Louisiana's coffers to the tune of $80 million or more annually. Voters already put restrictive spending language in the state Constitution, stipulating that the federal money must be used for coastal protection and restoration, but Sen. Butch Gautreaux, D-Morgan City, says he's concerned about the lack of attention being given to the operational costs that might be incurred. "We've seen it time and time again," he recently told the Senate Natural Resources Committee. "We have a revenue stream come in and it's designated for specific projects, but it all gets eaten up by administrative costs."
Gautreaux's Senate Bill 599 would limit the state to 7 percent of the OCS payments for administrative costs and fees. "My worry is if it's not in law, the next thing you know 50 percent is being spent on hiring people, paying benefits and buying vehicles," Gautreaux says. "They'll be growing, but no projects will be done." Garret Graves, the governor's chief coastal advisor and chairman of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), says he fully supports the "intent of the legislation." Graves adds that all agencies involved are working hard to keep costs down. "Our administrative costs are less than 1 percent across the entire spectrum of projects we are involved in," Graves says, referring to state funds only.
For the fiscal year that begins July 1, the state will spend $22.3 million on administrative costs, according to state data provided by CPRA. By contrast, $417.5 million is scheduled to be spent on construction. The state began receiving revenue from Outer Continental Shelf activity during the fiscal year that ended last June, when more than $6.3 million was deposited into the constitutionally established Coastal Protection and Restoration Fund. Another $699,757 was deposited this year, but none of the money so far has been used for administrative costs, according to an analysis conducted by the Legislative Fiscal Office.
The Senate Natural Resources Committee unanimously approved Gautreaux's Senate Bill 599. It now awaits action on the Senate floor. — Jeremy Alford