Sen. Brice Wiggins, R-Pascagoula, said he would ask Gov. Phil Bryant to call a special legislative session to direct BP economic damages money to be appropriated to the Coast after a bill he had authored died in the House on Tuesday.
SB 2634 would have created the Gulf Coast New Restoration Reserve Fund and funneled into the fund the $750 million the state is set to receive over several years for the damage to the economy from the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
The bill was also co-authored by Sens. Tommy Gollott, R-Biloxi; Sean Tindell, R-Gulfport; Mike Seymour, R-Vancleave; Philip Moran, R-Kiln; and Michael Watson, R-Pascagoula. It unanimously passed the Senate and had received support from Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves.
Coast representatives and senators have been advocating the bulk of the money be used on the Coast, which saw the bulk of the economic damage from the spill that shut down the tourism and fishing industries for months. About $50 million of the $150 million already received by the state has been spent, mostly for projects in South Mississippi.
But in a joint statement, the House’s Coast delegation said, “The Senate has sent us a bill that does nothing to move us in the direction of helping the Coast. It doesn’t say how the money will be spent, or for what purposes the money will be used.”
Specific language from the bill said money deposited into the Restoration Reserve Fund shall be used for projects that will benefit the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
“No action is better than passing a bill that only gives the appearance of action,” the statement said.
Reeves told the Sun Herald letting the measure die was “mind-boggling.”
He said putting the BP dollars into a separate account rather than the general fund was the only way to ensure the Legislature not spend the money elsewhere in the state.
And he lamented the move by the House delegation after the work he said he, the governor and senators put in to get senators from all over the state on board.
“How on earth are we going to convince them to do this again?” he said. “This will have serious long-term consequences to how the money is spent. And I don’t think those will be favorable to the Gulf Coast.
“We had senators from Tupelo, Corinth, from all over Mississippi, vote to spend the BP money on the Gulf Coast and the Coast delegation in the House decided to kill this.”
Wiggins also expressed disappointment.
“The bill was an important step in keeping BP dollars on the Coast,” Wiggins said in a statement. “We have known since the end of session last year that this issue would come before us, and the Senate worked diligently to put forth an acceptable piece of legislation.
“It is extremely disappointing for all Coast residents to see this issue succumb to the politics of the House chamber, where the concern for ‘bringing home the bacon’ outweighed doing what was right and the original intent of the funds.”
The money already received is being held in an account with the Department of Finance and Administration.