GONZALES, LA (WAFB) - Louisiana leaders were thrilled to announce a surplus of more than $100 million. But the big question is, how will they spend it? Victims of the 1983 flood say the state still owes more than $300 million.
George and Veronica Terrio have settled comfortably in their Gonzales home but they have not forgotten what got them here.The great 1983 flood wiped out their old home in Robert, Louisiana. The Terrios had to be rescued. For Veronica, the horror is still very real. "We lost everything we had. In an hour's time, everything was gone."
The Terrios were one of roughly 1,200 homeowners and 400 business owners who won in a class action lawsuit against the state transportation department which claimed the state failed to test the impact flooding might have on Interstate 12 when was built. In 2006, the plaintiffs won and the court ordered the state to pay the $91 million judgment. 11 years later, the victims have not seen a penny of it.
"Why don't the politicians take care of us little people and give us what we deserve and quit worrying about themselves," Veronica Terrio told 9News.
Plaintiffs' attorney Jean-Paul Layrission blames the Jindal administration for failing to pay out the settlement. The state budget was in a $1.6 billion deficit then.
But Layrisson sees recent news of a better than expected budget surplus under governor john bel Edwards as a sign of hope for his clients. we asked U.S. Senator John Kennedy, who served as Louisiana treasurer for 17 years, whether lawmakers could use some of that money to pay victims of the 1983 flood.
"If the State wanted to it could go borrow the money to pay the claims and then use the surplus to service the payment on the debt. So the short answer is, yes," said Kennedy.
But Governor Edwards says plaintiffs should not count on it. "I don't see that particular payment happening," he told 9News.
The constitution says 25 percent of the surplus must go to the budget stabilization fund and 10 percent to the unfunded accrued liability, or UAL, which funds future benefits. The governor says no decision has been made on where the rest of the money will go. "You can build projects in capital construction and do a couple of other things with it but you don't have all the flexibility with surplus dollars that some might think," said Edwards.
Veronica Terrio says it's a no-brainer, "It has been 34 years. That is ridiculous..uncalled for. I can't use enough strong words to express how terrible I think these people are." The plaintiffs' attorney Layrission says he believes the governor and his administration plan to pay his clients. But he says he is prepared to take action if they don't.
"If the governor and the legislators do not pay our folks as they said they would I believe we should make as much noise as possible and maybe go to the federal courts. I don't think we are there yet," Layrission said. Terrio added, "My plea is to please have mercy on us. I mean can't they be compassionate?"
The Legislature will make the call on how it plans to use the money in the surplus when it meets next year.