This line in the Jindal administration's plan for $103.5 million in midyear budget cuts seems innocuous: CPRA ($1,240,775) Reduces excess budget authority to IT consolidation and LaGov project cost. What that actually means is much more troubling than it sounds, though.
As the Public Affairs Research Council pointed out Tuesday, the budget line signals that the administration is planning to take money out of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Fund to use for operating expenses.
"This action appears on paper to be an agency budget reduction but is, in fact, a fund raid," PAR said. Even though the amount is relatively small, "it is significant because it breaks the state's practice of truly protecting the Coastal Fund from diversions that boost the state general operating budget. The fund sweep would demonstrate that Louisiana is now willing to cross the line to misspend precious, dedicated coastal resources when the budget-going gets tough."
That would set a terrible precedent, and Gov. Bobby Jindal shouldn't do it.
The agency that oversees coastal restoration can't be immune from budget cuts, PAR said, but the state shouldn't take money from the trust fund that pays for restoration projects.
Not only would it open the way for future budget raids on money that is vital to restoring our coast, it could give the federal government an excuse to withhold help.
The state needs $500 million to $1 billion per year to implement its coastal master plan, which it won't be able to fund all on its own. Other sources for the funding include a share of future offshore royalties collected by the federal government and fines assessed against BP for damages from the 2010 Gulf oil spill.
"The perception of Congress, the courts, the BP settlement authorities and others will help determine how and when these external dollars will be entrusted to Louisiana to deal with coastal damage and protection. Louisiana's spending practices via the Coastal Fund will be the No. 1 focus of scrutiny," PAR said.
President Barack Obama already is eyeing the drilling royalties that Louisiana and three other Gulf states are supposed to start receiving in 2017. The president argued in his $4 trillion budget released last week that the four states shouldn't get the royalties. Instead, the president wants the money to be used for "natural resource, watershed and conservation benefits for the entire nation."
The Louisiana congressional delegation is working to keep the revenue sharing plan in place as is, and Gov. Jindal shouldn't do anything to make that more difficult.
PAR noted that the state's plan to sweep money out of the coastal trust fund "is the exact kind of slip that President Obama is probably hoping Louisiana will make" to bolster his argument that the Gulf states should be denied drilling royalties.
There are members of Congress -- from both sides of the aisle -- who are sympathetic to President Obama's argument against offshore revenue-sharing going to Louisiana, Texas, Alabama and Mississippi. Critics of the revenue-sharing agreement, which was approved by Congress in 2006 after a long fight, ignore the costs borne by Louisiana and the other Gulf states with drilling off their coasts.
The pipeline canals that were cut through Louisiana wetlands for oil and gas exploration are one of the causes of erosion that destroyed 1,900 square miles of land from 1932 to 2000. The erosion is continuing, and the BP oil spill worsened the damage.
In an effort to counteract the damage in Louisiana, the state has put together a $50 billion, 50-year master plan to rebuild barrier islands, marshland and beaches and strengthen flood protection. Louisiana voters passed a constitutional amendment dedicating future offshore royalties to coastal restoration.
To balance a midyear budget deficit, Gov. Jindal has the authority to tap otherwise protected funds. But he hasn't taken money away from coastal restoration projects before -- and shouldn't now.