News Section: Opinion
BP Funds on the Horizon: But Who's Minding the Mint for Florida?
BP Funds are coming to a town near you; that is, if you live on the Gulf coast from Texas to Florida and have filed for damages from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill catastrophe. But Florida has its own ideas of how to best distribute the loot and taxpayers better be on guard to ensure that the cash isn't carried in a leaky bucket.
On May 13, 2013, Governor Scott signed Senate Bill 7007, an Economic Affairs Bill, said to bring some accountability to Florida's Department of Economic Opportunity and Enterprise Florida (EFI). SB 7007 proposes that the DEO analyze each economic development incentive application and publish specified information concerning the state's investments in economic development programs. But it also created Triumph Gulf Coast, Inc. (TGCI), a murky, non-profit corporation that is fighting hard to oversee much of the $5 billion from the state's share of the BP oil spill settlement.
Soon after the governor's election, he gutted the Department of Consumer Affairs (the oversight committee that EFI reported to) and designated many of its responsibilities to DEO. The DEO has proved to be little more than a rubber stamp for almost all of the contracts EFI has brought before them.
TGCI's purpose is to receive, hold and administer any state penalties against BP, and Restore Act funds, resulting from a settlement from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Disaster oil spill.
TGCI would be headed by a non-elected five-member board of directors. It is a separate budget entity and is not subject to control, supervision or direction by the DEO in any manner, including, but not limited to, personal, purchasing, transactions involving real or personal property and budgetary issues.
It seems Governor Scott ignored an April 23 letter from U.S. Florida Senator Bill Nelson (D), asking Scott to forget about redirecting any BP funds -- Nelson wrote:
“As a coauthor of the RESTORE Act I can tell you it was the intent of Congress to send these fines directly to the places along the Gulf of Mexico where they’re needed most. If this were to pass through the state Legislature and land on your desk, I’d expect you to veto it if it runs contrary to the intentions of federal law.”
Scott signed SB 7007 three weeks later, creating TCGI and the Recovery Fund that plans to manage BP settlement funds for a period of 30 years.
The eight counties said to be disproportionately impacted are: Escambia, Okaloosa, Bay, Walton, Santa Rosa, Franklin, Gulf and Wakulla, were selected to receive millions of dollars in BP fines under the federal RESTORE Act.
The Tampa Bay Business Journal reported, that, State Senate President Don Gaetz, who helped craft SB 7007, says not to worry, that the eight disproportionately affected northwest Florida counties won't lose anything, that they will still receive the agreed 75/25 split on the settlement (25% going to the rest of the counties effected by the BP spill), but that the separate fund would guarantee future investments.
In the same report, State House Representative, Matt Gaetz (Don Gaetz's son), who also supports TCGI and the Recovery Fund, says, "Dollars put in an endowment is spending for future generations," adding, "We can eat the golden goose for dinner or let it lay eggs for generations."
The Tallahassee consort appointing the TGCI board of directors are Governor Scott, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, State Senate President, Don Gaetz, and Florida House of Representative speaker Will Weatherford.
The five recently-appointed board members include former House Speaker Allen Bense, chairman of TGCI. Weatherford once worked for Bense and is now married to his daughter.
Bense once sat as vice-chairman on the Enterprise Florida Inc. Board of Directors, along with Governor Rick Scott (EFI's Chairman), and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.
If TCGI members duplicate the more hype than performance Modus Operandi of EFI, insult to injury may be all many of those traumatized by the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe will receive.
While Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi awaits a decision from the courts on which way the money will go, Senator Nelson, Franklin County residents and a growing number of other state officials are working to insure the Restore Act funds will be distributed as the federal act dictates, not left to the discretion of the State of Florida.
It is not over until it's over, and those in need the most are the ones who lost everything three years ago, when their life on the Gulf fell flat on its face. It's their lives which were intended to be restored and Scott and company ought to ensure that's the case.