BP settlement could be dead in Alabama Senate … Here’s what happened

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Hidden among the customary grapples over state budgets this Legislative Session has been another battle between two groups that used to work together on most priorities.

It isn’t Republican versus Democrat, or liberal versus conservative.

It isn’t even, like we see so often in DC, a tussle between the executive and legislative branches. No, this year a fight has broken out between the coast and the interior, and it might send $640 million in BP Settlement funds into purgatory until the stalemate ends.

With approximately 24 hours before this year’s Regular Session concludes, the fate of a $640 million compromise between the Gulf Coast delegation from Mobile and Baldwin counties, and other lawmakers who want a piece of the pie, hangs precariously.

The Senate Ways and Means General Fund Committee was scheduled to take a vote Tuesday on the House’s version of how to spend a bond issue taken out against future BP settlement funds. Members representing central and north Alabama, led most vocally by Decatur Republican Sen. Arthur Orr, argue the decline in revenue due to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill negatively affected the entire state.

The substitute bill Orr backed would have appropriated $191 million for road projects spread around the state, with a double portion going to coastal counties, and $450 million for repaying a “rainy day fund” raided in the wake of the oil spill, freeing up other funds to be used to shore up Medicaid for the fiscal year.

This move rankled coastal representatives, one of whom, Republican Sen. Tripp Pittman, who makes his home in Baldwin County, also happens to be chair of the committee hearing the bill.

Pittman unceremoniously ended the committee meeting Tuesday before the bill received a vote.

Fellow coastal delegate Sen. Bill Hightower said the region isn’t close to being where it needs to be.

“We’re not made whole,” Hightower said. “We won’t know the full implications of the oil spill for 25 years.”

But if the committee doesn’t approve some grand compromise before midnight Tuesday, the state will only get BP settlement funds as scheduled by a federal judge — a relatively paltry $50 million per year, instead of the fiscal shot in the arm legislators say they so desperately need.

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