FEMA to LA: Pay Up

3:00 PM -- Louisiana legislators are suffering from sticker shock this week, after being told that they owe FEMA $3.7 billion for its "help" following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

With its tax base decimated and already facing a $1 billion budget shortfall, Louisiana has no idea where it'll find the scratch, which amounts to about half of its annual $8 billion budget. But probably the first step should be to stop the bleeding:

"We may have to send [FEMA] a telegram pretty quick – 'Don't send us any more help. We can't afford it,' " said state Rep. John Alario, D-Westwego, chairman of the appropriations committee.

That's fine as far as it goes, John, but how do you pay for the tab you've already run up? Here's an original suggestion:

"What are we going to do if we can't pay them back – give them New Orleans?" asked state Rep. Roy "Hoppy" Hopkins, D-Oil City. "We don't know how we're going to get through this year's budget, and we're talking about another $3.7 billion on top of that. Surely someone [in Washington] has more sense than that."

Um, don't count on it, Hoppy. I'd start drawing up the transfer of ownership papers.

— State Rep. Red "Slappy" Panda, D-Mineraldepositsville, Light Reading

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