The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission voted unanimously last week to seek voluntary legal help in contesting the constitutionality of the legislative transfer of $26.4 million into the state’s general fund from a fund the commission oversees.

The money from the Artificial Reef Development Fund Program was among $108.2 million of state agency funds transferred into the general fund by Act 378 to balance the fiscal 2012 budget. Gov. Bobby Jindal signed the measure June 30.

The fund has received some $50 million in donations from oil and gas companies since it was established in 1986 to finance the conversion of abandoned offshore platforms into subsea wildlife habitats.

Acting commission chairman Patrick Morrow said the artificial reef fund is legally a part of the constitutionally protected Conservation Fund operated by the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

Commissioner Stephen Oats said legal action is needed in order to maintain the reef fund, which was tapped for $18 million last year to balance the fiscal 2011 budget.

“This is a necessary step.” Oats said. “It’s clear that this is Conservation Fund money. This needs to be looked at through our legal process.”

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