BP Settlement Money Belongs to the People

By Daily Editorials

April 25, 2017 4 min read

Our area is on the cusp of possible greatness, we believe, with multiple unique opportunities that simply need to be bound together with the kind of financial super glue represented by the $300 million of your money the state is holding hostage at this writing.

That $300 million in BP settlement money (this year alone), property of Panhandle residents and the result of a lawsuit, not taxes, is in jeopardy as the Senate and the House struggle to prepare bills that even have a possibility of meshing as the session winds to an end.

The pieces of economic opportunity right now are a once in a lifetime occurrence: Panama City has title and deed to the downtown marina, and someone willing to develop it; Eastern Shipbuilding landed the largest contract in U.S. Coast Guard history ($12 billion) and will need skilled workers; GKN Aerospace is relocating here with over 100 high-paying jobs and will need skilled workers.

These represent three seemingly independent occurrences, yet they are all in need of the other succeeding, and that success will bring others, and the glue that binds them is the potential of Triumph and the BP money to make this a better, more attractive, well-known place to live.

Whether it's an inability to effectively work as a team, an inability to handle a headstrong speaker of the house, an inability to recognize the significance of the moment or politics uglier than usual, we are left to urging all involved to come to their senses and fix this, and we are calling our House and Senate leaders to make this right.

If they don't — if leadership and other players throw their hands up in disgust and say they're tired of it because we can't play nice and it is delayed until next year — it's open season on the money once again.

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Florida Senate President Joe Negron have pledged the money will make it here; our legislative leaders need to put on their big-boy britches and get it done.

Years ago, Sen. Don Gaetz made it simple with legislation that said the money would go to the eight disproportionately affected counties, dispersed by Triumph — a board of appointed businessmen and leaders from across the region who are not running for office and who are invested in this area's future. Some would lose money through Triumph, their businesses unable to compete for work generated by the settlement, but they serve anyway. One of those is former Florida House Speaker Allan Bense, who knows our area and whose pockets need no further filling, but who sees the promise for our area.

Instead, the exact opposite is happening and politicians want to make those decisions. On a local level, that's the Bay County Commission. Readers will recall that with the first batch of BP money the county touched, it managed to do no better than use it to plug holes in its budget so it wouldn't have to raise the millage rate and anger voters. The Beach has an amphitheater to show; the county has nothing.

This is not the county commissioners' money, it is not the politicians' money, and they need to quit treating it like it is.

REPRINTED FROM THE PANAMA CITY NEWS HERALD

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