Friday, June 20, 2008

Big Numbers and A Bad Day

Posted By on Fri, Jun 20, 2008 at 9:39 PM

Yesterday while the state remained focused on the Legislature’s proposed pay raise, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the emergency war supplemental bill. The bill includes $5.8 billion for the 100-year hurricane protection system, but also could impede Louisiana’s coastal restoration efforts for years to come.

As previously discussed, the House version of the supplemental bill requires the state pay its federal cost-share, $1.8 billion, in just three years, instead of over a 30-year span as stipulated in the Senate version of the bill. This means that even though the state set aside $300 million this year for hurricane protection and coastal restoration efforts, up from the pre-Katrina average of $40 million, all of that money and much more will likely only go towards the hurricane protection system.

Originally, state officials hoped the $300 million could be used for the hurricane protection and the 17 coastal restoration projects authorized by the Congress in the 2007 Water Resources and Development Act. As of yesterday, that’s no longer the case.

“If we have to bankrupt this fund (state’s coastal and restoration fund) annually to pay for the hurricane protection system,” says Garret Graves, the chairman of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, “then it’s going to seriously jeopardize our ability to progress with coastal restoration efforts.”

As Graves and other experts will tell you, coastal restoration is a vital part of any hurricane protection system.

Senator Mary Landrieu is disappointed as well in the House version, but adds that Senator Byrd, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, intends to move a second supplemental bill that will include many of the domestic provisions — money for Louisiana hospitals, MR-GO closure, crime prevention and an extended payment plan — that were contained in the Senate’s version of the bill.

Meanwhile, Louisiana can only open its checkbook and start paying money for repairs to a system that wasn’t supposed to break in the first place.

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