State Politics

Governor wants to wait for a big-impact project to spend BP money

People on the Coast worried that upstate politicians would raid the BP settlement for economic damages might find some solace in the governor’s budget recommendation for next year’s legislative session.

In the document released Wednesday, the Bryant administration says it wants to sock the money away until someone comes up with a project that will have “an important economic impact” on the Gulf Coast and the state.

That’s very similar to a plan proposed by many leaders on the Coast. They’d like to see the money put into a reserve fund and spent on big-ticket projects that would boost the economy. Most would like to see the money go into a fund under control of a board independent of the Legislature so the Coast wouldn’t have to fight this battle over and over.

Bryant’s proposal doesn’t go quite that far. But he does want the money to go into a reserve fund where it would earn interest that would add to the state’s reserves and possibly raise its credit ratings.

“Portions of this money have already been spent in small amounts; and while projects like the Keesler Gate certainly are worthy, continuing to nickel and dime this money means that a large-scale project becomes less feasible,” the budget recommendation says.

Bryant has supported spending most of the money on the Coast, as does Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves.

The state has $100 million left from the initial $150 million payment. The state will receive payments each year until BP has paid it a total of $750 million for the economic havoc wreaked by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Disaster, which seriously curtailed tourism, fishing and seafood industries.

Elsewhere, Bryant lays out how he’d like to spend the estimated $5.6 billion the state expects to have in its general fund over the course of the fiscal year. Some of the broad themes are refusing to spending one-time money on recurring expenses, reducing reliance on borrowing and debt, improving education, reducing regulations, keeping taxes low and bolstering the child protection services and the fight against opioids.

“With g​reat delight, I can report that, for the first time in eight years, we have a partner in the federal government that understands a nation and its people can flourish only when governm​ent gets out of the way, and intends to take precisely the money it needs to fund core functions, not a penny more,” he wrote in the introduction. “Cooperative federalism is now the norm among our nation’s leadership.”

Paul Hampton: 228-284-7296, @JPaulHampton