Corcoran: Panhandle will get $300M of first BP settlement tranche [podcast]

The incoming Speaker of the House, Rep. Richard Corcoran (R-Pasco County), said yesterday on “Pensacola Speaks” that Northwest Florida can expect to receive 75-percent of the state’s share of the BP settlement–$300 million of the first distribution. However, the State Legislature may establish criteria for how the funds can be used.

“I think that what we’ve always said is that obviously we’re going to be honorable and fair,” said Corcoran. “You already have a court ruling, and the court ruling said that 75 percent of the spill damage was in your area and 75 percent of the money belongs to your area. I think you know, it’s my belief, certainly speaking for myself and working closely with your delegation members, that we’ll continue to honor that.”

In the 2016 Session, the Florida Senate wanted to earmark the first $300 million for Triumph Gulf Coast so the funds would go to its coffers directly once the state received the money.

Triumph Gulf Coast is a nonprofit corporation organized to oversee 75 percent of all funds recovered by the Florida attorney general for economic damages to the state that resulted from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. According to the 2011 Oil Spill Economic Recovery Act, Triumph Gulf Coast must establish, hold, invest and administer a trust account at a federally insured institution for the economic recovery, diversification and enhancement of the eight Northwest Florida counties disproportionally affected by the spill–Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Bay, Gulf, Franklin and Wakulla.

As the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Corcoran led the effort that successfully blocked the Senate’s plan.

Corcoran explained, “All of us are huge supporters of the Constitution and the rule of law, and what we were saying was, as the Constitution says, that is that no money shall be drawn from the state treasury except as appropriated by the legislature. We weren’t going to violate the Constitution just to get it over there or expedite it or whatever some of the requests were. We’re going to follow the Constitution, the rule of law because that protects the people ultimately against people using their power tyrannical.”

He added, “I think how it will play itself out is that the Panhandle will get the $300 million of this first tranche of $400 million. I do think though that we would probably go back in and look at making sure that it’s accountable.”

The Speaker designate does not want to see the monies used for economic incentives that pay companies for potential jobs. He has already taken a stand against Gov. Rick Scott’s Enterprise Florida and said he will lead the charge to strip taxpayer funding from the agency that the governor has placed in charge of his economic development. This past session Gov. Scott wanted lawmakers to fund a $250 million Florida Enterprise Fund.

Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward supported the effort, even attended Scott’s State of the State address. Incentives have played a big role in the expansion of Navy Federal Credit Union and the planned VT-MAE project at the Pensacola International Airport.

Corcoran voted down the fund, calling it “corporate welfare” because Enterprise Florida was “picking the winners by making deals for an elite few companies.”

“It’s not so much how it’s distributed or how that $300 million gets to you guys, whether it does go to Triumph,” he said. “Our issue is making sure that the money is spent in the best interest of the people in the Panhandle, and you don’t have these insider deals that have plagued our state and cost us literally billions of dollars in the last 10 years.”

He said that he would like to see the funds spent on infrastructure and education.

“Whether it’s educational job training or whether it’s infrastructure, those are great expenditures where every single person in the Panhandle has the opportunity to benefit or does benefit right from the get-go. That’s the kind of stuff that we would like to see those expenditures done,” said Corcoran.

He added, “I would say the best expenditure is on creating an educational system, an environment from K-12 through colleges and universities that second to none of the 50 states. If we have that, every business wants to come to our state. The second one, secondarily, almost equally as important, is you’ve got to have an excellent infrastructure so that people can move goods and services quickly and effectively.”

Local community leaders have expressed concerns about the loss of economic incentives, believing it will put Northwest Florida at a disadvantage competing with Alabama for employers. Corcoran said people don’t what the alternative would have been if the tax dollars were spent on education and infrastructure instead of incentives.

“You know, it would be one thing to say that if we had the best education system and our infrastructure was cruising along on a perfect 10, on a scale of 10, and all those things were in place. Then you’d said, ‘Okay, now we have this pot of money over here still available for us to do this.” You thought that was actually a function of government, at least you can now say what that return on investment with the tax payer dollars that we spent,” he said. “I’ve been there quite a few times lately, I can tell you that you guys have road demands. I’ve been there and I’ve seen the scores of the community colleges and the graduation rates and of your K-12 institutions. They’re nowhere near where they need to be.

Corcoran said, “When you’re taking a dollar and you’re handing it over to a private sector business, you’re taking it out of the classroom and you’re taking it off the roads. That can never make good sense.”