The Coast has waited far too long to learn the fate of the $700 million that has yet to be spent out of a $750 million settlement for economic damages from BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.
We know the majority of the economic damage was inflicted on the people of Mississippi’s Coast. And we know that no rational argument has been made for spending the majority of the BP economic damages money anywhere but on the Coast.
The Mississippi Gulf Coast’s lifeblood, tourism, was on life support. Its seafood industry was first shutdown and then mistrusted. Millions were invested to restore the country’s faith in Gulf shrimp and other delicacies. Our charter boats sat idle. People lost jobs, homes, businesses. Our economy is growing again but it has not been restored. Our workers’ income has not recovered. The Coast has not been made whole. And, we do not know if the damage from the spill is over. Millions of gallons of oil remains at the bottom of the Gulf.
For quite some time, we’ve been told to have patience and we were patient. But as we waited, scheme after scheme popped up that would take more and more money from the $700 million and spread it further and further from the Coast.
Most recently, there was a last-minute list of road projects that was used as a bargaining chip in the 11th hour of the legislative session. Few were on the Coast and their link to BP economic damages was tenuous. That would have reduced the Coast’s share of the money to about 70 percent, down from 80 percent offered by some and the 100 percent preferred by Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves.
We are out of patience. Every day that money is not earmarked for the Coast is another day it is at risk. We have not heard a proposal from the northern reaches of Mississippi that would invest the money in a project or projects that would benefit the whole state.
We would rather see the state invest this money in a way that will solidify the national reputation of its cities as some of the best beach destinations in the United States. That will pay dividends to all Mississippians as tourists travel across and through the state to reach those beach towns.
A special session this summer seems highly likely. The battle over the BP money should end then.
We do not have the votes in the Legislature to bring that money here.
Gov. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and House Speaker Phil Gunn, however, have the political clout to get the job done. If they will it, we are confident it will come to pass.
They also will have before them a couple of new potential revenue streams that can help them solve the question of how to pay for much needed road and bridge maintenance. Now, the BP money does not have to be part of that equation. Nor should it be.
There are several proposals to protect the money from the whims of politicians, establish a mechanism for vetting projects and measure those project’s return on investment. It should not take long to choose one.