The Wild Side for June 3, 2012

Once again, the 2012 session of the Legislature provided us with more reason to understand why the words “infinite wisdom” and “Louisiana Legislature” are seldom mentioned in the same sentence.

With countless numbers of folks working to convince both houses of Congress to pass the Restore Act, our Legislature is determined to take several steps back in time and convince us that they, at least the members of the Senate Finance Committee, know better how to divvy up Restore funds than the folks who know what needs to be done with what could be a big pile of money.

Don’t know Restore? It’s a move that would guarantee 80 percent of the Clean Water Act penalties meted out to the violating parties in the BP-Deepwater to the five Gulf of Mexico states. While details and agreements between the U.S. Justice Department and BP (and others), it’s estimated that Louisiana’s share could contain nine zeroes with a number between 2 and 5 in front of those string of goose eggs.

Here’s what happened: Rep. Simone Champagne, R-Jeanerette, put forth House Bill 812, a proposed amendment to the State Constitution that all Restore Act monies received by the state would go directly into the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Fund.

That’s simple enough and would mean that recent Legislative approval of the state’s Coastal Restoration Master Plan would have the funding to complete massive and much needed projects.

Enter the Senate Finance Committee last week and, by unanimous committee approval, the following amendment was added: “The legislature, by a favorable vote of two-thirds of the elected members of each house, may authorize the expenditures of monies received by the state under the provisions of this paragraph for any purposes not prohibited by this constitution or by Congress. Any such authorization shall be approved by passage of a specific legislative instrument which clearly states the purposes for which the monies will be expended.”

It means our Legislature could raid Restore Act money whenever it wanted if there were enough votes. If there’s one thing our Legislature has proved (Exhibit 1: Two years of raids totaling $44 million on the Louisiana Artificial Reef Fund) is the members will take money whenever and wherever they believe they can get away with it.

So, while we wait to for the final Clean Water Act fines and a resolution of some Restore Act provisions between congressional houses, our Senate Finance Committee is announcing to the world that our state isn’t likely to use all the Restore Act money for the intended purpose of restoration.

That’s not the message that needs to be sent to Washington, D.C. Especially not the message that we have greedy politicians who can’t wait to get their hands of somebody else’s money.

With the kind of money we’re talking about here, this isn’t the matter of our legislature throwing somebody a bone. They want to take the whole cow.