Archive for State Legislature
Louisiana's next governor will face two important fiscal issues related to coastal restoration early in his term. The Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition, in partnership with Coast Builders Coalition, delivered the below letter to both candidates on November 9, in which our groups asked the candidates to provide their positions on how they would handle two key coastal issues once in office.
The first question involves the payback of Greater New Orleans Area Hurricane Storm Damage Risk Reduction System (HSDRRS) by the state of Louisiana to the federal government. Louisiana owes approximately $93 million per year for the next 30 years to pay off its debt. The groups asked the candidates how they might manage this enormous fiscal obligation.
The second issue involves the level of funding generated by the state of Louisiana for coastal restoration. Since 1989, the state’s only annual recurring commitment to coastal funding has remained nearly stagnant between $25 and $35 million. Given the tremendous backlog of projects in the state’s $50 billion Coastal Master Plan, we asked the candidates whether Louisiana’s current contribution was significant enough to match the need and how and where additional funds might be found.
Our organizations received official responses from both candidates on November 17. A PDF and the text of each response is shared below in alphabetical order. Click on each image to view/download the response letters.
John Bel Edwards response:
Coastal Restoration, Interested Parties:
In response to the questions you posed on Coastal Restoration funding I am providing the following answers and information. When I am governor you will always have a seat at the table as we prioritize our coast and return honesty to the state budgeting process.
- The first issue is the money owed to the Federal Government by the state of Louisiana supporting the New Orleans and surrounding areas Hurricane Storm Damage Risk Reduction System (HSDRRS). The first payment of the 30-year payback scheme, structured by Governor Jindal to repay the $1.8 billion debt, comes due very early in the new Governor’s term. Estimated in the Fiscal Year 2016 Annual Plan to be $93 million per year beginning in FY 2017, these payments represent a significant new recurring cost to the state.
If our presently identified coastal funds are used to pay this obligation, it will nearly cripple the state’s coastal program. We would appreciate you sharing how you would manage this obligation without diverting existing coastal funds like GOMESA and the Coastal Protection and Restoration Trust Fund. The FY 2016 Coastal Annual Plan suggests this payment should be requested from the Capital Outlay budget each year. Do you feel that is an appropriate funding stream? If not, we would like to hear your thoughts on exactly how this debt may be paid.
I do not support diverting existing coastal funds to repay the HSDRRS debt. Capital Outlay funds may need to be used to address some of this payback, but the state will need to address the HSDRRS payback as part of its structural budget reforms. My plans to address the structural budget problems so we can budget with honesty and integrity to meet all our obligations and priorities are available at www.johnbelforlouisiana.com .
- A second issue is the level of restoration funding generated by the state. As you are probably aware, the state’s only annual recurring commitment to coastal funding has remained nearly the same since 1989, somewhere between $25 and $35 million. In fact, since this funding is tied to state mineral revenues, the state’s contribution to coastal funding actually decreased by approximately $10 million within the past year. Given the tremendous backlog of projects in the Coastal Master Plan, and the $50 billion price tag—that some economists estimate to be nearer to $100 billion—do you believe the state should invest more in coastal funding, and are you willing to advocate for additional state coastal dollars during your term? As Governor, where would you suggest these dollars could be found?
I look forward to working with stakeholders to ensure timely funding of coastal restoration projects.
We have lost nearly 2000 square miles of coastal land mass over the last 100 years. The economic contributions of Louisiana’s coast exceed $20 billion per year. But much of this is threatened, including our fisheries, wildlife, tourism, oil and gas, and shipping and navigation industries.
We must immediately match the scale of the crisis with the response, implementing unprecedented coordination and taking three primary actions:
- Create certainty of funding
- Ensure the funding is spent only on coastal restoration master plan and priority of projects
- Fully and convincingly making the case to the Congress and the Administration that coastal restoration in Louisiana is a national priority worth of funding tens of billions of dollars
The Coastal Restoration Master Plan is a living document which must be constantly revisited through the lens of new and better science.
Funding will soon be available in amounts that will be meaningful, including $100 million per year from the Breaux Act, $1.2 billion from the BP criminal fine, up to $200 million from GOMESA, $5 billion over fifteen years through NRDA, and another $787 million over 15 years through the Restore Act. But the estimated cost of funding coastal restoration is $50 billion over the next 10 years. I am fully committed to using these funds only for coastal restoration so that we can prove we are good stewards of our funding when we attempt to convince the rest of the nation to partner with us.
John Bel Edwards
Senator David Vitter's response:
Senator David Vitter’s Answers to Restore the Mississippi River Delta Campaign Coalition and Coastal Builders Coalition
Letter Dated November 9, 2015
1)The FY 2016 Coastal Annual Plan suggests the payment of the 30-year payback scheme, structured by Governor Jindal to repay the $1.8 billion debt, should be requested from the Capital Outlay budget each year. Do you feel that is an appropriate funding stream? If not, we would like to hear your thoughts on exactly how this debt may be paid.
Yes, I believe it is an appropriate funding stream, but I am open to examining other means of retiring the debt service, including advocating Congress to forgive the debt as they have done in the past with FEMA disaster loans. What I won’t do is rob Peter to pay Paul by cannibalizing current and future coastal protection and restoration dollars, even if those funds could be used to retire the debt. My family and I live within the greater New Orleans hurricane protection system and are appreciative for the protection it affords us and hundreds of thousands of Louisianians, but we cannot afford to let this debt cripple efforts to restore and protect our diminishing coastline. It’s unfortunate that Governor Jindal kicked the can down the road to the next administration by deferring this payment when mechanisms were in place giving him authority to make payments before construction was completed.
2) Given the tremendous backlog of projects in the Coastal Master Plan, and the $50 billion price tag – that some economists estimate to be nearer to $100 billion – do you believe the state should invest more in coastal funding, and are you willing to advocate for additional state coastal dollars during your term? As Governor, where would you suggest these dollars be found?
We should absolutely be investing more in coastal funding. Louisiana’s coast is one of America’s greatest natural treasures and one of the most productive ecosystems in the world. Our coast contains 40% of our nation’s wetlands, which provides critical habitat to numerous species of wildlife, migratory birds, fish, and shellfish. Equally important is the fact that our coast is a “working coast” and the foundation of Louisiana’s economy. It supports employment opportunities across several business sectors – energy, maritime, industrial, and fisheries – so Louisianians can provide for their families. Louisiana’s coast is also the #1 reason our state is called the “Sportsman’s Paradise.” Our bayous, wetlands, and coastal waters are home to world-class fishing and hunting. Whether employment or enjoyment, our coast is the lifeblood of Louisiana and its restoration is critical for the survival of Louisiana’s economy and culture.
We have all the tangible tools to effectively execute our coastal restoration efforts now and for generations to come, but what we need, in addition to sustainable funding, is leadership to aggressively push those efforts forward for a resilient coastal ecosystem.
And as your Governor, I will bring that leadership – strong, hands-on leadership – and start putting shovels in the ground on major coastal ecosystem restoration projects. In order to take steps to fully implement the Coastal Master Plan, I will immediately work towards three specific proposals. I will –
1) Lead a coalition of Governors, including from Alaska, Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, and the Gulf Coast, to push the feds to expand and accelerate offshore leasing and revenue sharing, producing more American energy and revenue for both the federal government and producing states.
2) Bridge the gap between wetlands mitigation and the Coastal Master Plan. We need to push mandated mitigation where it’s need the most – our coast.
In order to do this, we have to strengthen our state’s In-Lieu Fee program, which is essentially the state’s mitigation bank.
I was instrumental in pushing the Corps to approve the state’s current in-lieu fee program, but we need to greatly expand the program and include proposed mitigation projects in the Coastal Master Plan or have them complement existing ecosystem restoration projects.
3) Develop an aggressive, organized campaign to raise substantial private matching funds from energy and other leading businesses and non-governmental organizations, which would serve as lead sponsors of specific ecosystem restoration projects in the Coastal Master Plan.
We must encourage those businesses or organizations that call Louisiana home or do business here to compliment the state’s investment in ecosystem restoration projects along our coastal landscape.
Finding additional revenue sources to fully implement the Coastal Master Plan takes strong leadership, and as your Governor, I will be a leader who is hands-on and aggressively push to protect the money we have and find the money we will need.
Thank you, and God Bless Louisiana.
To see what the candidates said at CRCL’s Coastal Issues Forum, click here.No Comments
By Derek Brockbank, Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign Director
Louisiana businesses have long known that a healthy coast is essential to the state’s economy. But a healthy coast means restoration, and restoration takes funding. So it’s no surprise that businesses are lining up to support House Bill 490 (HB 490) in the legislature this year, because this legislation would make sure Louisiana’s Coastal Trust Fund is used only for coastal restoration and protection, with no exceptions.
Michael Hecht, President and CEO of Greater New Orleans, Inc., has outlined why the coast is so important to the Louisiana business community:
“Restoring Louisiana’s coast is existential to our ability to live and work in Greater New Orleans, but we have a unique opportunity to turn this looming crisis into an economic opportunity by harnessing the existing water management, coastal resilience and disaster recovery experience currently existing in Southeast Louisiana and building on it, exporting it, and positioning our region as the international epicenter of the emerging environmental sector.”
Greater New Orleans, Inc. recently released a letter in support of HB 490, where they were joined by 28 business and economic development associations and more than 60 individual businesses that work in Louisiana. In explaining why they supported a bill that was largely about closing a fiscal loophole in how the Coastal Trust Fund is operated, the letter stated:
“As supporters of the RESTORE Act and the State Master Plan process, we know that large-scale coastal restoration is urgently needed to protect our businesses, economic base and communities. Investing in protection and restoration of our coast will reduce storm risk, while also creating jobs and economic opportunities that are important to our members, customers and parishes.”
Todd Murphy, President of the Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, one of the letter signers, explained his support for HB 490 this way:
“Restoring our coast means sustaining the Louisiana economy. Businesses in Jefferson Parish rely on coastal wetlands. We need to protect the integrity of Louisiana’s Coastal Fund by using the Fund as the law intended – to pay for critical protection and restoration projects only.”
The Louisiana State House of Representatives unanimously passed HB 490 on May 5. Now the bill is awaiting a vote in the Senate Finance Committee. With the Senate adjourning on June 2, just a week and a half remains for the bill to be taken up by the Finance Committee and then the full Senate.
Take Action: Tell your Louisiana State Senator to take up and pass HB 490: https://secure2.edf.org/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=2283.No Comments
Business Community, Civic Associations and Coastal Parishes call for Louisiana Legislature to Protect Coastal Fund and Pass HB 490May 15, 2014 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in People, Restoration Projects, State Legislature
By Derek Brockbank, Campaign Director, Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign
More than 150 businesses, business associations, economic development groups, civic associations, tourism and outdoor recreation groups recently signed on to a letter calling for the Louisiana Legislature to pass HB 490, to protect the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Fund from misuse.
At the same time, the 20 parish presidents that represent Louisiana’s coastal parishes sent their own letter to the leaders of the Louisiana House of Representatives and State Senate calling on them to support HB 490.
Led by Coast Builders Coalition, Dredging Contractors of America, Greater New Orleans, Inc. and dozens of local chambers of commerce and convention and visitors bureaus, the letter from businesses and civic associations stated that:
“Monies dedicated to the Coastal Fund should only be used for coastal protection and restoration, but for the past few years, a loophole in the law has been used by the state as a way to attempt to balance the state’s ailing budget. While the Louisiana constitution prohibits using one-time money for recurring costs, such as health care and higher education, some lawmakers believe they can get around that rule by transferring money through the Coastal Fund.
“As civic and business leaders who value restoration as one of our top policy priorities, we urge you to pass HB 490 and protect the integrity of Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Fund, by ensuring it will be used only as intended.”
The letter from Louisiana Parishes Against Coastal Erosion (PACE), representing Louisiana’s 20 coastal parishes, said:
“La. PACE has reviewed and discussed the provisions set forth in this proposed piece of legislation, and has determined that HB 490 is in the best interest of the citizens of Louisiana.”
After unanimously passing the Louisiana House of Representatives, HB 490 is clearly gaining momentum. The more people hear about the bill, the more popular it becomes. Not surprisingly, the business community, local civic associations and coastal parishes understand that transparent and proper use of Coastal Fund dollars is essential to ensure the continued flow of BP oil spill fines and other federal funds to the state. Mismanagement of the Coastal Fund now will create doubts that could jeopardize millions of future dollars. HB 490 would protect the integrity of Louisiana’s Coastal Fund by using the Fund as the law intended – for coastal restoration and protection only. Now it’s up to the Louisiana State Senate to pass this important legislation.No Comments
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Elizabeth Skree, Environmental Defense Fund, 202.553.2543, firstname.lastname@example.org
Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781, email@example.com
Erin Greeson, National Audubon Society, 503.913.8978, firstname.lastname@example.org
Bill to protect Louisiana’s Coastal Fund passes House
Legislation to prevent misuse of Fund moves to Senate
(May 5, 2014—Baton Rouge, LA) Today, the Louisiana House of Representatives unanimously passed House Bill 490, legislation that will protect the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Fund from misuse. National and local conservation organizations committed to Mississippi River Delta restoration – Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation, National Audubon Society, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation and the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana – issued the following statement:
“The House took a stand for the coast today by unanimously approving House Bill 490. This bill closes the loophole on misuse of the Coastal Fund as a pass-through account. Authored by Representative Brett Geymann (R-Lake Charles), House Bill 490 protects the integrity of the Coastal Fund by ensuring it is used as the law intended: for coastal protection and restoration uses only.
“Transparent and proper use of the Coastal Fund is essential to our state’s coastal restoration efforts. This is especially true as federal decision-makers are deciding how to direct hundreds of millions of dollars in penalties from the Gulf oil disaster. Money transferred into the Coastal Fund should only be used for coastal purposes – not to balance the state’s budget.
“The people of Louisiana deserve the state’s unanimously-passed commitment to comprehensive coastal restoration. We look to the Senate to make the same choice and swiftly pass House Bill 490.”
The Restore the Mississippi River Delta coalition is working to protect people, wildlife and jobs by reconnecting the river with its wetlands. As our region faces the crisis of threatening land loss, we offer science-based solutions through a comprehensive approach to restoration. Comprised of conservation, policy, science and outreach experts from Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, we are located in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Washington, D.C.; and around the United States. See more at www.mississippiriverdelta.org.No Comments
Louisiana House Bill 490 passed another legislative milestone today when it passed out of the House Committee on Civil Law and Procedure. This legislation ensures that money in Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Fund (Coastal Fund) is used for coastal restoration and protection purposes only. Next, the bill goes to the House floor for debate.
HB 490 will protect Louisiana’s Coastal Fund by prohibiting it from being used as a pass-through account for purposes other than coastal protection and restoration.
We will continue to monitor and support House Bill 490 as well as provide updates on its status as it makes its way through the legislative process. Its next stop is the House floor.
Find out more about HB 490 in our previous post.No Comments
Louisiana House Bill 490 is legislation that would ensure the Coastal Protection and Restoration Fund (Coastal Fund) is used for coastal restoration and protection purposes only. The bill reached its first milestone yesterday when it was unanimously passed by the House Appropriations Committee.
This bill will protect the state’s Coastal Fund by prohibiting it from being used as a pass-through account for purposes other than coastal protection and restoration.
The Mississippi River Delta Restoration Coalition will continue to monitor and support HB 490, and we will provide updates on its status as it makes its way through the legislative process. Its next stop is the House Committee on Civil Law and Procedure.
Find out more about HB 490 in our previous post.
Take Action: Call your Louisiana state representative and tell them to close the loophole on transfers from the Coastal Fund other than those intended by law, by supporting HB 490.No Comments
By Cynthia Duet, Director of Governmental Relations, Audubon Louisiana
On May 24, 2013, a curious, if not uncomfortable, rhetorical question was posed in bold red lettering in an article from The Lens by Representative Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles. He asked, “Do you think when we created the Coastal Restoration Fund, it was meant to be used for money-laundering?”
Our groups believe the answer to be an unqualified “No” and therefore are supporting a bill this legislative session – HB 490, authored by Rep. Geymann – intended to close the loophole on further questionable manipulation of the state's Coastal Protection and Restoration Fund (Coastal Fund).
At issue here is a financing tactic that has been implemented within the last several years as a creative solution to attempt to balance the state’s ailing budget. While the Louisiana Constitution prohibits using one-time money for recurring costs, such as health care and higher education, the administration and some lawmakers believe they can get around that rule by transferring money into, and then out of, the Coastal Fund, which can accept such one-time monies. State officials have repeatedly said that these transfers are allowable under state law.
The uses of the dollars in the Coastal Fund are defined specifically in the Louisiana Constitution, Article VII, Section 10.2(D), which states:
“The money in the fund may be appropriated for purposes consistent with the Coastal Protection Plan developed by the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, or its successor.
No appropriation shall be made from the fund inconsistent with the purposes of the plan.”
We believe this language is abundantly clear and that the current machinations of the Coastal Fund erode its integrity and may threaten many millions of future dollars for coastal protection and restoration efforts essential to the state’s true coastal recovery.
Yet still in 2012, the so-called “fund sweep” bill (Act 597) provided for transfer of more than $21 million of non-recurring revenue from the state general fund to the Coastal Fund, and then the same value was transferred from the Coastal Fund into the state’s general fund and treated as recurring revenues. In 2013, an attempt was made to place more than $87 million of 2011-12 surplus dollars into the Coastal Fund, and then provided for that same value ($87.3 million) in “recurring” revenues to be placed into the state’s general fund (through an amendment to SB 226 that did not ultimately make its way into law). This session, nearly $51 million in non-recurring revenue are slated to be transferred from the Office of Debt Collection, initiatives from the Department of Revenue and other sources, into the Coastal Fund and then taken from that fund to pay for education, elderly affairs and libraries.
The perception of impropriety created by these budget tactics, particularly at this most critical time in the implementation phase of Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan, sends the wrong message to federal partners in charge of allocating and tracking dollars from Clean Water Act fines related to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and related sources of funding.
Tomorrow, the Louisiana House Committee on Appropriations is scheduled to consider House Bill 490, which would put a stop to the current money manipulations. The bill adds succinct, qualifying language to the aforementioned section of the constitution that would prohibit not only appropriations from the Coastal Fund, but also pass-through transfers. Rep. Geymann’s bill would take effect by next year’s budget process, closing the loophole and disallowing the current finagling of the restoration account. We fully support the passage of this constitutional amendment so that the Coastal Fund can continue to enjoy the protections provided for it by the voters of this state in 2006 – through another constitutional amendment – which passed by an overwhelming majority.
Continued use of the Coastal Fund for accounting manipulation brings negative attention to an otherwise well-run coastal program and risks the state’s opportunity for BP oil spill recovery dollars. We must continue the fight to ensure the Coastal Fund is fully protected and used solely for coastal restoration and protection.
Take Action: Call your Louisiana state representative and tell them to close the loophole on transfers from the Coastal Fund other than those intended by law, by supporting HB 490.1 Comment