Alpine Summit

Monday, September 26, 2005

Army Corps of Engineer's New Name: Louisianna Corps of Engineers

Both senators from Louisianna have drawn up a bill that would increase project funding for the Army corps of engineers (ACOE) from under $400 Million to $40 Billion. That's BILLION with a 'B.'

Louisiana's congressional delegation has requested $40 billion for Army Corps of Engineers projects in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, about 10 times the annual Corps budget for the entire nation, or 16 times the amount the Corps has said it would need to protect New Orleans from a Category 5 hurricane.

Louisiana Sens. David Vitter (R) and Mary Landrieu (D) tucked the request into their $250 billion Hurricane Katrina Disaster Relief and Economic Recovery Act, the state's opening salvo in the scramble for federal dollars.

The bill, unveiled last week, would create a powerful "Pelican Commission" controlled by Louisiana residents that would decide which Corps projects to fund, and ordered the commission to consider several controversial navigation projects that have nothing to do with flood protection. The Corps section of the Louisiana bill, which was supported by the entire state delegation, was based on recommendations from a "working group" dominated by lobbyists for ports, shipping firms, energy companies and other corporate interests.

The bill would exempt any Corps projects approved by the commission from provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Water Act. It would also waive the usual Corps cost-sharing requirements, ensuring that federal taxpayers would pay every dime.

So, not only are they getting way more money than any other state in terms of ACOE funding, but the citizens of Louisianna wouldn't have to pay for any of it. Sure we get the bill, but Louisianna gets all of the benefit.

I really feel for Louisianna (and the rest of the south hit by Katrina/Rita), but this is absolutely ridiculous! Louisianna is already getting BILLIONS in aid excluding private donations, and now they want BILLIONS more?! This seems like opportunism on the part of Louisianna's Congressional representatives and other state leaders.

With the public eager to help Katrina's victims, President Bush and Congress have already approved $62.3 billion in spending for the Gulf Coast. But some budget hawks are grumbling about the impact on the deficit; the Louisiana delegation's $250 billion bill would cost more than the Louisiana Purchase under the Jefferson administration on an inflation-adjusted basis. Some critics of federal water projects said the $40 billion Corps request could make the delegation look especially greedy and undermine support for the state's reconstruction plans.

You don't say.

Corps funding is only part of what Louisiana wants. The 440-page bill also includes $50 billion in open-ended grants for storm-ravaged communities and $13 billion for the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, along with mortgage assistance, health care, substance abuse treatment and other services for hurricane victims. It also includes hefty payments to hospitals, ports, banks, shipbuilders, fishermen and schools, as well as $8 million for alligator farms, $35 million for seafood industry marketing, and $25 million for a sugar-cane research laboratory that had not been completed before Katrina.

The bill did not specify where the money would come from, but several billion dollars a year would presumably flow from a provision allowing Louisiana to keep half the offshore oil and gas revenue paid to the federal government, a long-standing demand of the state's delegation.

It seems that leaders in Louisianna are simply using this disaster to get the pork spending projects denied in the past, resurrected. Not to mention their desire for special treatment above any other state accepting funding for ACOE projects. This bill better not even make it past committee and Bush damn well better not sign it if it somehow magically makes it to his desk. The way things are going, though, I'm not too thrilled with Bush's spending policy and the worst part is that I can see him signing this.