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BP money distribution continues to be debated after legislature adjourns

Photo courtesy of TeleSouth Communications Inc.

Legislators say they are looking for a special session to come to an agreement on setting aside money from the BP oil spill settlement. After the bill to do so died in a conference committee during the last few days of the session, legislators say there needs to be an agreement soon so that the money can start being used to benefit the state.

While the BP money bill has been passed by the Senate four times previously, this year, it was one of the first bills to pass the Senate. Senator Brice Wiggins said the problem is in the House because their votes outnumber the coastal delegations.

RELATED: BP bill dies in conference, legislators seek special session

“I consistently have my constituents ask me why do people in north Mississippi feel like they are entitled to this money when they didn’t feel the effects or experience BP,” said Senator Brice Wiggins. 

Wiggins added that there have also been some concerns as to how the money’s distribution would be overseen.

Of the $750 million dollars in the settlement, the state has spent approximately $50 million of it on coastal projects and economic development for the coast.

RELATED: BP oil spill money: where will it go?

“The law that we’ve passed says that it will go into the budget contingency fund (BCF),” Wiggins said. “The bill that’s been passed by the Senate four times takes that money and puts it in what’s called the gulf coast restoration fund… The idea is that that money will go from the BCF to a fund that can only be spent on places and issues related to the BP spill.”

Wiggins said they needed to take a break for a few weeks after the busy legislative session to let their minds settle and then they would work on getting an agreement so that a special session could be on the table.

“The analogy that gets put out there is that there are tornadoes in north Mississippi, I don’t recall any coast delegation or coast members demanding that that money be spent on the coast,” Wiggins said. “I understand that there is damage to the state, I think the citizens on the coast have a hard time understanding why it has to be so political, as opposed to doing what’s right.”

In the past, Speaker Pro Tempore Greg Snowden has said that the Governor would not call a special session unless there was an agreement between the House and the Senate.

“We are very close as I understand it in some of the things that they have talked about,” Snowden said. “We will be talking informally during the Spring and the Summer. If all of the sudden there is agreement and we can put something into play, then it wouldn’t be inconceivable that the Governor would call a special session, and hopefully, it could all be cleared up in just one day.”

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