- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 18, 2005

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco promised Congress yesterday that the spending of billions of federal tax dollars to help her state recover from Hurricane Katrina will be “transparent and wide open.”

Testifying to two House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee panels via teleconference from Baton Rouge, Mrs. Blanco said she intends to hire a national accounting firm to audit all federal recovery spending in Louisiana, and then hire another such firm to verify the first. She said she also has directed the state recovery authority she created this week to set up an audit committee to oversee all federal spending.

“I expect to account for every single penny of federal money that is received by the state of Louisiana,” Mrs. Blanco said.

The governor was responding to concerns raised by some in Congress about sending billions of dollars in federal aid to a state with a history of political corruption. Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican, for example, told a newspaper in his home state last week that fraud was part of the culture of Louisiana.

“The financial affairs of Louisiana will be transparent and wide open as it pertains to this period of recovery, more so than it ever has been before,” Mrs. Blanco said.

Congress already has provided $62 billion in emergency relief for Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama since Katrina struck Aug. 29, followed by Rita on Sept. 24. Louisiana lawmakers have proposed another $250 billion in federal outlays to help the state recover.

The Bush administration agreed yesterday to allow the Army Corps of Engineers to rebuild the New Orleans levees to their pre-Katrina condition without requiring state and local governments to share the costs. The decision does not cover any enhancement of the levees.

Corps officials have estimated it will cost $1.6 billion to rebuild the levees to their pre-Katrina condition and $5 billion more to enhance them to protect against a Category 5 hurricane. Louisiana officials are pushing for the enhancement, which Congress has not yet authorized.

Mrs. Blanco was joined by New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin and Lt. Gov. Mitchell Landrieu in pledging that federal money will be spent wisely and in complaining that Louisiana is being treated differently than other states that have experienced natural or man-made disasters.

“Louisiana does not have a corner on the market in terms of public corruption,” said Mr. Landrieu, citing seven governors who have been indicted in the past decade. He also noted that the Justice Department’s public integrity section has prosecuted hundreds of cases in states nationwide.

“Just as no member of Congress would like to have themselves painted by the actions of a few, nor do the people of Louisiana,” Mr. Landrieu said.

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