Coast leaders question House BP spending bill

Coast leaders question House BP spending bill

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - It's crunch time in Jackson with lawmakers looking at dueling BP spending bills. The Senate passed a bill a few weeks ago and the Mississippi House approved a measure Wednesday.

Business interests on the coast who want most, if not all of the money used for projects here were disappointed with the bill that came out of the House.

The Senate bill creates the Gulf Coast Restoration Fund. Wednesday, a measure made it through the House. It sets up 11 districts around the state where money will be deposited and spent.

Leaders with The Gulf Coast Business Council and Mississippi Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce see the House bill through cautious and questioning eyes.

"We've been pragmatic enough to realize that some of that money will go across the state, but creating 11 mouths that demand to be fed is not in the best interest of the coast," said Business Council CEO Ashley Edwards.

Chambers of Commerce on the Coast have been actively lobbying lawmakers. They find the House bill mystifying.

"I'm a little disappointed," said the Chamber's CEO Adele Lyons.

Lyons is wondering why the House would set up these districts, giving the state more authority over decision-making when the coast believes the three coastal counties should be determining which projects should be funded.

"We know what we think will work here with projects," said Lyons. "I don't know that is best serves us to have a group from out of the area doing that."

A week ago, coast representatives in the House were pitching a plan that would set up a board made up of people from Jackson, Harrison, and Hancock counties. That group would have been in control of the hundreds of millions of dollars coming to Mississippi.

One theory is the powerful Speaker of the House Phillip Gunn intervened and influenced the bill that establishes the special funds spread throughout the state.

The two chambers will debate a compromise and coast leaders have a clear vision of what they want to see.

"We would like to see the House and Senate come together and come up with a bill that takes the money out of the hands of the legislature so it's not up for annual appropriation and puts it in the hands of a coast based decision-making body," Edwards said.

The state has already received $150 million from the BP settlement. Mississippi will get $40 million annual payments from 2019 through 2033.

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