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Oil spill money targeted for Louisiana colleges, under proposal to be considered by lawmakers

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BATON ROUGE, Louisiana — Higher education leaders are eyeing Gulf oil spill recovery money as a possible long-term financing source for Louisiana's college campuses.

The Board of Regents on Wednesday supported a proposal to be sponsored by Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, that could steer to public colleges some of the money Louisiana is expected to receive from BP to pay for economic damage caused by the 2010 spill.

Those dollars are separate from other civil penalties from violations of environmental laws, money that's required to be set aside for coastal restoration and protection projects.

Lawmakers already have earmarked the first $1 billion in economic damages money to repay Louisiana's "rainy day" fund and an elderly trust fund that have been used to plug budget gaps in recent years.

Leger's bill, according to the Board of Regents, would target oil spill money above that, place it into a fund and require the interest earnings be spent on higher education.

The economic damages claims are the subject of ongoing federal litigation, and it's unclear when any of the money might be available to the state.

The money wouldn't help colleges as they face the possibility of steep cuts in the upcoming budget year, but it could give the campuses a dedicated and stable stream of funding in future years.

Lawmakers will consider the proposal in the legislative session that begins April 13.

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