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Story Archives: Thank you, Mr. President
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|Thank you, Mr. President|
President Bush lifted a heavy burden off Louisiana last week, when he agreed to let the state stretch out payment of its $1.8 billion share of levee improvements in the wake of the 2005 hurricanes.
If the president had stuck to an up-front payment plan, the state would have had to pay more than $500 million in 2009 and $1 billion in 2010.
In fear of that, the state had frozen $300 million meant for badly needed coastal restoration projects and warned of future cuts in health care, higher education and highway spending.
But after what federal recovery coordinator Maj. Gen. Doug O'Dell described as months of negotiations, President Bush agreed to the longer payment plan. Gov. Bobby Jindal and Louisiana's congressional delegation had been pushing hard for that dispensation.
With the Bush administration seemingly set on the immediate payment, state officials had been lobbying Congress to provide relief. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic House leaders who were in New Orleans two weeks ago promised to find a way to give the state more time.
But the president decided to approve the 30-year payback through an executive order, so Congress can focus on other pressing recovery needs. The long-term payment plan is allowed under the 1986 Water Resources Development Act. California and Nevada have been given those terms on similar projects.
Though the timing of the levee match most directly affects coastal Louisiana, the ramifications of a quick payment of the $1.8 billion could have affected residents across the state. Much of the state budget is tied up statutorily or constitutionally and can't be cut, so pain caused by the levee payment would have fallen on health care, hospitals and road projects.
The 30-year payment plan removes that pressure. President Bush also agreed to delay Louisiana's first installment until 2011, when work on so-called 100-year levee projects are scheduled to be completed.
"The administration deserves great credit for this decision," Gov. Jindal said Thursday. "This agreement signals just how strong the president's support is for helping this state recover. On behalf of the citizens of this great state, we say, 'Thank you.'""
The administration's change of heart on this issue is vitally important, and President Bush does deserve our gratitude.
Louisiana is still on the hook for a larger share of the levee work than has been customary in the past, but the looming deadline for such a large payment was the far bigger problem.
It's unclear what made the Bush administration reverse course, but Gen. O'Dell certainly deserves credit for helping Louisiana make its case for the 30-year payoff. Gov. Jindal described the general's efforts as "tireless."
Gen. O'Dell said that an aerial tour of Louisiana's eroding coast in July helped persuade him to recommend that the president allow the 30-year payment plan. The fragility of marshland that is needed to provide a buffer from hurricanes is painfully obvious to everyone who lives here.
As a 2007 report in The Times-Picayune detailed in stark terms, the state's window of opportunity for reversing damage to coastal marshes is closing rapidly. Louisiana cannot afford to delay restoration projects, and President Bush's decision means that is no longer a threat.
As Gov. Jindal noted recently, levees alone won't protect us. South Louisiana needs a combination of strong levees and healthy marshes to shield us from storms.
But the health of our coast is important, not only to people who live and work here but to the nation as a whole.
The oil, natural gas and seafood that are harvested in South Louisiana provide food and fuel to millions of Americans. The goods that flow through our ports are indispensable to businesses and families across the nation.
President Bush recognized the value of greater New Orleans in his speech in Jackson Square two weeks after Hurricane Katrina. As he stood in the darkened, water-logged city, he said, "All who question the future of the Crescent City need to know there is no way to imagine America without New Orleans."
He also promised that night to do whatever it took to help this region recover. This executive order helps fulfill that vow.
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