Mississippi Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves speaks to members of the State Senate during a special session of the Legislature Tuesday, August 28, 2018. 

The Gulf Coast will receive 75 percent of the $700 million BP settlement funds earmarked to the state for economic damages under legislation passed 42-8 late Tuesday night by the Senate.

The other 25 percent would be disbursed by the Legislature to the other 76 counties.

Late Tuesday Gov. Phil Bryant expanded the agenda for the ongoing special session to include the BP settlement funds, as he said he would do, after the Legislature passed bills estimated to generate about $200 million annually for the deteriorating infrastructure system on both the state and local levels.

The $700 million is part of a $2.4 billion settlement Attorney General Jim Hood and others negotiated with BP after the 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig and ensuing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The bulk of the $2.4 billion outside of the money to the state for economic damages is going for environmental restoration projects on the Coast. In addition, the coastal counties and municipalities have received other funds for various issues related to the oil spill, including the reimbursement of at least a portion of the sales tax revenue the municipalities lost.

The money the Senate disbursed late Tuesday was supposed to be to compensate the state for sales tax revenue loss because of the economic downturn on the Coast caused by the oil spill. Under existing law municipalities receive 18.5 percent of the sales taxes – a 7 percent tax on most retail items – collected within their borders.

The 75-25 split was hammered out by Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, Speaker Philip Gunn and the governor.

The legislation also consisted of 128 earmarks or special infrastructure projects for nearly every area of the state. The total costs of those projects is $111 million

Some argued that the $700 million should have been more evenly distributed throughout the state, but their efforts were unsuccessful Tuesday night in the Senate.

The bill is expected to be taken up Wednesday in the House. Reps. Tracy Arnold, R-Booneville, and Tom Miles, D-Forest, are expected to lead a bipartisan effort to have the funds distributed equally among the 82 counties based on population.

The state already has received $150 million of the settlement funds and the Legislature has spent about $50 million of that amount on primarily Gulf Coast-related projects.

The $111 million in earmarks in the bill are being paid for with BP funds the state already has received and with $50 million in bonds approved earlier in the special session.

The state is slated to receive the final $600 million over the next 15 years in payments of $40 million annually.

The counties included as part of the Gulf Coast region in the Senate bill are the counties bordering the Gulf – Harrison, Hancock and Jackson – and Pearl River, Stone and George counties.

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Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.