Sen. Landrieu pushing to limit coastal fund use

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BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu is urging state senators to support a House-approved bill that would limit the use of Louisiana’s coastal protection fund.

Gov. Bobby Jindal has used the fund as a way to circumvent restrictions on surplus dollars and other patchwork funds that must be spent on one-time projects.

He has moved restricted cash into the protection fund to meet a requirement that the money be used on one-time projects. Then, he takes a similar amount from the fund to plug into the state’s operating budget.

The Louisiana Constitution requires that the Coastal Protection and Restoration Fund be spent on the state’s coastal protection plan, but the Jindal administration has said that doesn’t prohibit transfers of money as long as they don’t deplete the balance.

The administration has defended the coastal fund swap as helping it avoid budget cuts.

In a letter to state Senate leaders, Landrieu said the transfers undermine the purpose of the fund and set a “dangerous precedent” that could be used to siphon off dollars intended for coastal restoration work in the future, echoing concerns lodged by environmental groups.

She pushed for passage of a bill by Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, that would ban such maneuvers. The bill awaits debate in the Senate Finance Committee after getting unanimous support from the House.

“This manipulative process is wholly inconsistent with the intent of the Louisiana Constitution and responsible budgeting practices,” wrote Landrieu, a Democrat.

The letter was sent last week to Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, and Finance Committee Chairman Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville. Landrieu’s office released the letter Wednesday.

Jindal said Landrieu was wading into the state legislative debate to divert attention from her vote for the federal health care law as she runs for re-election this fall.

“She is doing everything she can to distract from her record. It always has been and always will be our priority to protect our coastline and the communities that rely on it,” the governor said in a statement.

Lawmakers have agreed to Jindal’s transfers through the coastal funds in prior years.

But the House rejected the Republican governor’s proposal to put $51 million in one-time cash into the state's coastal protection fund and then remove a similar amount to spend in next year’s budget. The plans were stripped from the budget bill.

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