BILOXI -- The Legislature will tweak the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, will look for ways to pay for repairs to worn out roads and bridges and will consider spending more money on a gigabit broadband initiative on the Coast.
But the Coast's delegation expects its biggest fight will be over the $750 million the Mississippi Legislature will control from the BP settlement, three lawmakers told the Mississippi Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce at its annual pre-legislative briefing on Tuesday at the Golden Nuggett. And it was their promise to fight for the money that drew the loudest and longest applause.
"I'm gonna tell you guys, it's going to be a fight," said Rep. Richard Bennett, R-120, of Long Beach. "Even the people who I thought were friendly to us on the Coast, when I go to Jackson and talk to them a little about it, right off the bat, they say, unt-uh, it's not the Coast's money."
Bennett said the Coast delegation will fight to keep the money here on the Coast.
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The Coast will receive millions outside the Legislature, too.
Just last week, Gov. Phil Bryant was on the Coast to announce $57 million in projects on the Coast that will be paid for with settlement money.
"We always wanted this to be a Gulf Coast event, a Coast-centric event," he said then.
The three said they are working on a strategy to keep the money flowing to the Coast.
"They way the settlement is structured, we'll be getting money for years to come," said Sen. Sean Tindell, R-49, of Gulfport. "It's not just a fight we'll have to deal with this year ... We need to put measures in place to make sure the money continues to come the following years."
Rep. Scott DeLano, R-117, of Biloxi said he has traveled across the state only to find development directors and tourism officials tell him they plan to go after the money.
"We've met with the leadership early, talked with them about what the process is going to look like within the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, what kind of vehicle do we need to have in place to be able to get this money to the Coast and use it on the Coast."
DeLano said the delegation hopes to leverage that money to get more investment from the federal government and private industry.
"We want that money to churn in our economy," he said. "Each time it turns over in our economy, it gives economic output. That economic output provides additional tax dollars to the state of Mississippi.
"We are the engine, we have been the engine and we need to continue to be the engine. So give us this opportunity to provide more for Jackson, more for the general fund. Allow us to get this money and deploy it properly."