BATON ROUGE — After some controversy over how to distribute the first of the Deep Horizon oil spill recovery payments, the Louisiana Senate took action last week to reroute $7 million from the state attorney general’s office to the governor’s coastal office.
The state received a $20 million payment for fees and costs associated with the oil spill lawsuit. Another $19 million was paid recently for natural resource damage assessment costs, Ruth Wisher, a spokeswoman for the AG’s office, told the Louisiana Record.
In total, the state will get $6.8 billion from BP for the Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010. Most of it will go toward coastal recovery projects, but some of the payments have other purposes.
Besides litigation costs, lawmakers were able to earmark $200 million of the economic damage payments to help balance this year’s budget, Sen. Eric LaFleur (D-Ville Platte), told the Record.
“It was to go to the overall loss of revenue in the state,” LaFleur said of the $200 million.
But Gov. John Bel Edwards and Attorney General Jeff Landry disagree on how to handle the recent payment. Treasurer John Kennedy asked lawmakers to resolve the dispute, which it did with Thursday’s vote. The action was added to a budget bill that passed the Senate and is headed to the state House of Representatives.
The governor setup the coastal office to create a central place for all the payments to be deposited, LaFleur said.
“Basically, it is law that when these funds come in, send it to coastal,” he said. “It’s setup to handle all the proceeds.”
That way everything is accounted for and a protocol is established to check how each dollar can be spent.
“This is going to permanently put in place the policy that we need to ensure that those dollars are spent correctly,” LaFleur said.
The state Department of Treasury originally sent Landry’s office $7 million to cover legal expenses related to the lawsuit. The governor’s administration had said the AG should get $5 million and treasury should get $16.6 million to repay a loan to the AG’s office from state reserves that reimbursed legal expenses.
The two recent payments to cover litigation costs and natural resource damage assessment costs replace money the state already spent, Wisher said.
”We believe the money borrowed from the treasury should be repaid from an even split between these two pots of money," she said. "The remaining funds should be distributed in accordance with pre-existing appropriation directives from the legislature or current legislative will."
Landry has said the $7 million reversal could harm operations at his office, the AP reported.
LaFleur said that while the AG budgeted up to that amount, records show it should only be reimbursed for approximately $4.3 million. The coastal office will handle reimbursing those documented expenses.