Lawmakers tout benefits to La. in newly passed transportation bill

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wwltv.com

Posted on July 1, 2012 at 11:23 AM

Updated Sunday, Jul 1 at 2:42 PM

Bill Capo / Eyewitness News
Email: bcapo@wwltv.com | Twitter: @billcapo

NEW ORLEANS -- Members of Congress are starting their July 4th vacation, but just before they left Washington, both the Senate and House passed a major transportation bill and sent it to the president's desk.

The massive transportation bill will spend about $100 billion on federal highway programs over two years, and some of that money will come to Louisiana, and pay for jobs.

"Louisiana will get hundreds of millions of dollars, probably in the $600,000 to $700,000 range, for road construction over the next two years,” said Rep. Steve Scalie, R-New Orleans.

One section of the bill drew cheers from Democrats and Republicans in Louisiana, because after two years of effort, the Restore Act passed after it was folded into the transportation bill. The Restore Act would dedicate 80 percent of the fines BP will eventually be charged for the oil spill two years ago to helping coastal restoration in Gulf Coast states.

Sen. Mary Landrieu was ecstatic with the vote.

"It's hard to get 76 votes for apple pie and Mother's Day greetings, but we got 76 votes,” said Landrieu, D-Louisiana. “I was so proud. Not only was it the right thing to do, a great help to the region that I help to represent."

It could mean Louisiana will get a slice of as much as $20 billion for coastal restoration.

"We've been losing about a football field of land every hour, and you're going to have to first of all stop the bleeding, but then start spending real money in putting land back out there, whether it's dredging programs, whether it's diversion programs,” Scalise said. “There are lots of different ways to do this. You're going to have to go replant marsh in some areas."

But there is one part of the huge bill that will be quite costly to Louisiana. At the last minute, Republican leaders added a section that will cost the state $650 million in Medicaid funding.

"We really urged our leaders to take it out, that it was going to be a devastating impact on the state's Medicaid budget, but for whatever reason the House and Senate leaders decided to keep that in there, and that was unfortunate,” Scalise said.

The reduction is to repay a past overpayment to Louisiana, but is predicted to cause a scramble to minimize the impact on health care for the poor.

"I know we're going to be looking at other options, as the governor will as well,” Scalise said. “I think there's one opportunity for them to front load some of their payments on Medicaid."

One of the other sections of the transportation bill renewed The National Flood Insurance Program. It is not a temporary short-term renewal as Congress has done in the past. It was extended for five years.

 

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