Lawmakers are back in Montgomery this week to try and find a solution for a 200 million dollar shortfall in the state’s General Fund budget.
But one group of state lawmakers wants to pull half a billion dollars out of the General Fund.
A collection of Gulf Coast legislators want to take half of the billion dollar BP oil spill settlement and keep it local, putting it toward road and infrastructure projects and coastal insurance reform.
I spoke with the author of the bill, Representative Margie Wilcox of Mobile, about why the group wants to keep the settlement money on the Gulf Coast and what the revenue will fund.
Margie Wilcox: We’re trying to come up with a fair compromise. The state received a billion dollars in a bucket of money that was to be spent for economic losses. We’re hoping to get 500 million of it returned to the Gulf Coast area – Mobile and Baldwin County – and we thought that would be a fair compromise, half, because we’ve not been able to find out exactly what the economic loss was to the state but we do know that the Governor and General Strange did a great job on negotiating the settlement, and we would like for that 500 million to be spent in this area.
100 million on coastal insurance reform, which is an initiative that’s been going on for many years, and then 200 million to Mobile County for road and infrastructure projects, and 200 million to Baldwin County for road and infrastructure projects.
Alex AuBuchon: You mention the road projects in Mobile and Baldwin Counties, what exactly are the projects that you’re hoping to see funded?
MW: Baldwin County, they very much would like to see the Beach Express extended to I-65. By doing that road project, it would also have a further economic return to the state by allowing people to get to the beaches and spend money, so there would be a further return to the state and it would be a great economic value to Baldwin County. In Mobile County, we have two to three projects that are very much desired.
Highway 98, extending it to four lanes – “Bloody 98” has been a deadly road for many years and we’d like to get it four lanes all the way to the Mississippi state line. You have lots of commerce, plus many people could use it for an evacuation route in times of hurricanes. Highway 98 backs up every weekend.
And another project that is very worthy is the I-10 overpass bridge, and some of the funds would be needed to match that.
AA: You also mentioned that some of this money would go toward coastal insurance reform. Can you tell me some of the issues with insurance on the Gulf Coast and what reforms you’d like to see?
MW: The coastal homeowner’s insurance – and even for our businesses – right now, there is a large disparity in rates that are charged to homeowners and businesses that are along the coast in Mobile and Baldwin Counties and some other counties closer in. The big fallacy of the hurricane and insurance world – you’ll hear a lot of people say “Well, you live south of I-10. If you live south of I-10, you’re unlikely to be able to get affordable insurance.” Anywhere in Mobile and Baldwin County, you’re not able to get good wind coverage.
But we all know, Hurricane Katrina didn’t get to I-10 and turn around and leave and go back into the Gulf. Hurricanes continue on into the northern state and sometimes go all the way up the East Coast. So we feel like the models that base the rates because we’re closer to the coast are incorrect, and we’ve been working towards getting fairness.