As I reported over the weekend, $300 million of BP settlement funds intended for the Panhandle counties that were impacted the worst by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill are at risk.
Much of Sunday and Monday was spent talking with lawmakers, commissioners, business leaders and Tallahassee political insiders. The emotions ranged from panic to optimism to fatalism.
Local leaders have been encouraged to have faith in our legislative delegation, but others see a power grab by House Appropriations chair Richard Corcoran, who will be the Speaker of the House next year.
Under the terms of the Oil Spill Economic Recovery Act, which became law in 2011, three-fourths of the settlement money was to be an endowment to diversify the economy of coastal Northwest Florida. The Oil Spill Economic Recovery Act established Triumph Gulf Coast, Inc. as a long term non-governmental endowment to manage and use the funds to diversify and strengthen our regional economy.
Corcoran wants to move the funds into the general fund for use next year.
The political games being played with the dollars intended for our counties are numerous and multi-layered.
Lawmakers are upset with Gov. Rick Scott for many reasons. He has abandoned the state Republican Party, raising money for his PAC, Let’s Get to Work. He hasn’t helped lawmakers with their campaigns and listens to no one outside of his camp.
Most of the Florida legislators have endorsed Sen. Marco Rubio for the GOP presidential nomination. Scott is expected to endorse Donald Trump.
Senate and House leaders are therefore punishing Scott by not approving his $250 million business incentive package. In the House, lawmakers are being coerced to back this or they run the risk of not having any of their pet projects funded.
The Triumph funds are getting caught in this fight.
Gulf Power CEO Stan Connally, a Triumph Gulf Coast director, is optimistic. He told PNJ that he is “hopeful the money can be appropriated this session in anticipation of the settlement funds coming to Florida soon.”
If not this session, he believes the lawmakers will deal with it in 2017.
What can locals do? Email lawmakers.
House Speaker Steve Crisafulli email@example.com
House Appropriations Chair Richard Cororan firstname.lastname@example.org