Senator Don Gaetz Oil Spill Recovery Act
Local economist tallies the toll of oil spill ‘gut punch’ (DOCUMENT)
by Tom McLaughlin, Florida Freedom Newspapers
Haas Center director Rick Harper put an exclamation point on the economic devastation the BP oil spill has caused along the Emerald Coast at a Tuesday meeting with a Florida Senate Appropriations Committee.
State Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said he hopes to use Harper’s message to his fellow senators to sell them on his Oil Spill Recovery Act bill, which would direct federally recovered BP money to Northwest Florida.
“Northwest Florida was hit very hard by the economic consequences of the oil spill, maybe harder than some people around the state really understood,” Gaetz said.
“I wanted the Appropriations Committee to understand that we took a gut punch and we aren’t really on our feet yet.”
Harper’s research focused on the taxable retail sales in tourism from January through September of 2010 and included six cities.
The Ph.D. from the University of West Florida looked at Pensacola, Fort Walton Beach and Panama City in Northwest Florida, then at Tampa, Orlando and Miami.
He said his findings indicated the Deepwater Horizon Spill, though it had relatively little physical impact on the Florida coastline, crushed the region’s economy during its summer peak time.
“This region was down massively, as much as 30 to 35 percent, compared to what it would have been but for the spill,” Harper said.
With an improving economy, Tampa “should have been up,” but because of the spill its retail tourism sales ran flat, Harper said.
Orlando and Miami registered gains of 6 to 8 percent in taxable retail sales in tourism, Harper said, but would have done better if the BP spill hadn’t occurred.
Gaetz’s Oil Spill Recovery Act, already introduced, would seek to make it easier to create jobs by reducing regulations, cutting taxes and increasing incentives, he said.
It also “looks ahead” to a time when BP is required to pay the federal government fees or settlements, Gaetz said.
“It calls for that money not to be drained in Washington or diluted in Tallahassee but come to Northwest Florida for economic development and diversification,” he said.
Gaetz’s plan would put BP’s money into the hands of the seven counties in Northwest Florida actually touched by BP oil: Oka-loosa, Santa Rosa, Walton, Bay, Escambia, Gulf and Franklin.
It would be used to encourage new business to come into the region and develop industries less reliant on tourism or military dollars, Gaetz said.
Gaetz said Harper clearly pointed out to the subcommittee he chairs — the Budget Subcom-mittee on Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development Appropriations — the “cascading” impact the spill had on all of Florida’s economy.
Those impacts could be particularly hard felt in a state where “already dismal” economic pro-jections for the coming year “have gotten worse” in recent months, Gaetz said.
He said he hoped Harper’s presentation made it clear that due to the oil spill Northwest Florida won’t be able to contribute the “economic activity, jobs and revenue” the state has come to expect from the region.
Gaetz said he is hopeful Harper’s report will create a legislative environment in which his Oil Spill Recovery Act can get traction.
“It’s going to require some heavy lifting,” he said.