Louisiana Senators Introduce Hurricane Relief Bill
Louisiana’s Senators Mary Landrieu (D) and David Vitter (R) have proposed legislation to provide about $250 billion in federal aid to help their state rebuild from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The massive, 10-year plan, contained in a bill introduced on September 22, includes about $180 billion in direct federal spending, Vitter said. The rest would represent the cost of various tax breaks. Already, Congress has approved $62.3 billion in post-Katrina relief aid for Louisiana and other Gulf Coast states. The Office of Management and Budget has said further spending would be requested.
The Landrieu-Vitter package would draw most of its funds from federal appropriations, but they also are seeking 50 percent of the revenue from oil and gas leases off their state’s coast, or about $3 billion and $4 billion annually. Those revenues would go toward restoration of coastal wetlands and barrier islands as well as infrastructure.
The energy bill signed into law in August provides Louisiana with $135 million in annual oil and gas lease revenue for four years to be used for coastal restoration work. The new plan also includes more than $16 billion for transportation, of which $2.9 billion would be allocated for emergency relief aid to repair highways and other infrastructure; $50 billion in Community Development Block Grants “to provide disaster relief and promote long-term recovery” in the affected area; and $40 billion for a new Pelican (Protecting Essential Louisiana Infrastructure, Citizens and Nature) Commission to study flood protection, coastal restoration, and navigation projects.
The legislation also would allot $150 million to the National Park Service for historic preservation grants “to owners of historic structures and artifacts affected by Hurricane Katrina,” says the bill summary. The nonfederal matching share for the grants will be 25 percent, instead of the usual 50 percent. The nonfederal match could be cash or services, labor or equipment. The program would be administered together with the State Historic Preservation Office and National Center for Preservation Technology and Training in Natchitoches, Louisiana.
In addition, the measure would provide $30 million to the Park Service for preservation grants for National Historic Landmarks, plus $8 million for technical assistance and training for people who want to restore historic property, and $20 million for the Trust’s preservation services. Landrieu says she recognizes that the sum she and Vitter are seeking is large, but she says, “It’s not a local problem. It’s not a state problem. It’s a national tragedy and it needs an unprecedented national response.”
Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and other GOP colleagues want at least some of the federal hurricane relief spending to be offset with spending cuts. Among their suggestions is a 5 percent cut in discretionary spending other than defense and homeland security, and rescinding $24 billion in highway projects in the recently enacted highway and transit bill.