Jeremy Alford

Coastal money could be raided during debate

by Jeremy Alford

As lawmakers look underneath every rock for available cash to send back to their districts, coastal advocates are concerned that $300 million set aside by Gov. Bobby Jindal for restoration and hurricane protection projects could become a target on the House floor today. The lower chamber was expected to begin debate this morning on House Bill 2, which contains the state’s annual construction budget. It’s also the instrument that holds the multi-million dollar funding pool Jindal has cobbled together over the past two year using surplus money.

According to the proposed amendments that have been published online by the House of Representatives so far, there are five measures that could potentially alter the $300 million line item, including one that would increase the total to $375 million. But there are also three others that would decrease the tally to about $285 million in an effort to send those dollars elsewhere. Rep. Sam Jones, D-Franklin, has his own amendment as well that would ensure that at least 20 percent of the money — whatever the total — be used in the parishes of Cameron, Iberville, Lafourche, St. Mary, Terrebonne and Vermilion.

Some officials, however, fear the amendments could become more aggressive today as debate begins on the legislation. Garret Graves, the governor’s top coastal advisor, sent a letter to House members Thursday explaining that he’s received word that there may be an effort to divert as much as $100 million from the line item for various road projects. Such an amendment, however, had not yet been filed as of Friday morning.