Biloxi mayor: Diverting BP settlement money statewide 'unfair' to Gulf Coast

Biloxi mayor: Diverting BP settlement money statewide 'unfair' to Gulf Coast

JACKSON, MS (WLOX) - Legislation to use a portion of Mississippi's oil spill settlement money on statewide transportation improvements is being met with opposition from Gulf Coast leaders. Still, the measure passed the House Tuesday, and is now headed to the Senate.

Columbus Republican and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jeff Smith was the one who first came up with the idea. His plan would set aside $50 million, that's a third of the money Mississippi is set to receive in the first year of the settlement. The money would be used to help repay bonds for projects such as highway and bridge repairs.

Gulf Coast lawmakers oppose the plan saying the money should be spent in the part of the state most affected by the 2010 spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Biloxi Mayor FoFo Gilich said Tuesday evening he was disappointed to see the measure pass.

"It's unfair to the businesses, residents and those on the Gulf Coast who suffered so much economic devastation from the oil spill and still have not recovered," Gilich said. "The Coast community, which has stood steadfast in its resolve to see this money spent on the Coast, should have come first on this funding."

Gilich has proposed more than $100 million in waterfront revitalization projects that he believes will show a better return to the state than spending the money on infrastructure statewide. Gilich said he's hoping to see his fellow Coast mayors develop projects in their respective communities to add to the list.

"They've usually used a divide-and-conquer strategy on us in Jackson, hoping that we would argue amongst ourselves here on the Gulf Coast," Gilich added, "but we must remain vigilant in our efforts to stand together for the people of the Gulf Coast, which, in turn, benefits the entire state."

House Bill 1386 passed the House 101-20 on Tuesday. It now moves to the Senate where Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves opposes it.

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