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Louisiana Senators Propose $250-Billion Katrina Reconstruction Package, Other Lawmakers Seek Offsetting Cut

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 Hurricane Katrina. The massive, 10-year plan, contained in a bill introduced on Sept. 22, includes about $180 billion in direct federal spending, Vitter said. The rest would represent the cost of various tax breaks.

But Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and several other GOP colleagues want at least some of the federal hurricane relief spending to be offset with spending cuts. Among their suggestions: a 5% across-the-board cut in discretionary spending other than defense and homeland security; and rescinding $24 billion in earmarked highway projects in the recently enacted highway and transit authorization bill.

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 it further spending would be requested.

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The Landrieu-Vitter package would draw most of its funds from federal appropriations, but they also are seeking 50% of the revenue from oil and gas leases off their state's coast. Vitter says that 50% share of lease payments recently has ranged between $3 billion and $4 billion annually. Those revenues would go for 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 oil and gas lease revenue annually 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 emergency relief aid to repair highways and other infrastructure; and $50 billion in Community Development Block Grants "to provide disaster relief and promote long term recovery" in the affected area, according to a summary of the bill prepared by Landrieu's staff.

There also would be $40 billion that an envisioned new "Pelican Commission" would use for Corps of Engineers hurricane and flood protection, coastal restoration and navigation projects."

Landrieu says she recognizes that the sum she and Vitter are seeking is large, but she says of the hurricane's aftermath, "It's not a local problem. It's not a state problem. It's a national tragedy and it needs an unprecedented national response."

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 non-federal matching share for the grants will be 25%, instead of the usual 50%.The non-federal 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, La.

In addition, the measure would provide $30 million to the Park Service for preservation grants for National Historic Landmarks, plus $8 million to technical assistance and training for people who want to restore historic property, and $20 million for the Trust's preservation services.

 

Tom Ichniowski, Engineering News-Record

 

 

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