The Gulf Coast will get 75 percent of BP settlement funds coming to the state over the next 15 years, ending a years-long debate over how to split up funds to make up for economic damages the state suffered after a 2010 oil spill.
The House passed a bill on Wednesday in a special legislative session that determines how the roughly $700 million will be divided. Since the Senate passed the same bill late Tuesday night, the bill will now move to the governor’s desk for signature.
Coast lawmakers had long argued the majority of the funds should go to the three coastal counties, while lawmakers in other parts of the state wanted the pot to be dispersed elsewhere.
The final decision to give 75 percent to the Coast was accepted by a vast majority of lawmakers – 42 of the 52 senators, and 99 of the 122 representatives.
“The 75-25 split was the only solution that seemed to be viable enough to pass,” said Rep. Jeff Smith, R-Columbus.
The diversion of BP funds served as the final action of the Legislature during the special session, which began August 23. Gov. Phil Bryant expanded the agenda Tuesday afternoon for the special session to include the BP settlement funds after the Legislature passed bills estimated to generate about $200 million annually for the deteriorating infrastructure system on both the state and local levels.
Before lawmakers left Jackson, they also used a portion of the already received BP settlement funds for about $111 million for earmarked, special projects across the state. Republican leaders who drafted the bill handpicked those 128 projects, which are mostly related to infrastructure. View a breakdown of the projects here.
The $700 million considered this week 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, which the Legislature could not touch. 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 Legislature dispersed this week compensates the state for lost sales tax because of the economic downturn the oil spill caused.
The 75-25 split was hammered out by Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, Speaker Philip Gunn and the governor. Some argued that the $700 million should have been more evenly distributed throughout the state, but their efforts were unsuccessful this week.
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 state is slated to receive the final $600 million over the next 15 years in payments of $40 million annually.
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 counties that will receive the 75 percent payout are Hancock, Harrison and Jackson – the three that border the Gulf of Mexico – and Pearl River, Stone and George, just to the north of the coastal counties.