Volume 7 Number 25 June 18, 2010
Dylan Ratigan (DR): Joining us now, the sunshine state's chief financial officer, Alex Sink. What degree of confidence do you have that all the talk from escrow to you'll be made whole will happen.
Alex Sink (AS):I have a large degree of confidence. I heard it with my own ears today. The President promised the people of the Gulf Coast of Florida that they will be held harmless and that their lawsuits would be compensated for. That's what we have to hold the President and the federal administration accountable for.
DR: BP's Lamar McKay, who was being interrogated from BP has offered potential escrow of money to protect those in Florida and along the Gulf Coast. Here's what he had to say:
McKay: I cannot comment on whether there will be a fund set aside or not. We made it clear the company stands behind these commitments. We have a strong balance sheet. We have a strong company. We intend to stand behind those.
DR: Does that make you more confident, less confident, or is his commentary at this point irrelevant because the president holds the bag?
AS: Well, BP has spent millions of dollars on a public relations campaign. We've seen all the full-page ads and newspapers across the country with all these promises. I think it's time for the president to stand up to BP when he meets with them tomorrow and say put your money where your mouth is. Put several billion dollars into an escrow fund and show the people of the Gulf Coast and the people harmed by this, all the many small businesses, that you mean what you say and the money is absolutely there to pay these enormous claims that we're already beginning to experience. Continued
DR: Where would you draw the line on claims, and who would be responsible for drawing the line? If you look you have the direct environmental damage in the victims' families from the disaster itself, the cleanup and the workers from unrelated industries affected. Florida being obvious with tourism and then things like lost real estate value particularly in a place like Florida, which is the tax base at a time when tax collections are so critical coming out of the recession. Do you think BP should be on the hook for all those sorts of things or where would you draw the line?
AS: I'm not drawing any line. Of course they should be on the hook for it. If we get out a year from now and peoples' property values have declined, yes, we should file a claim against BP for that. Right now I went to a BP claims office and heard first hand stories of many small businesses who are already losing hundreds of thousands of dollars every month, and they can't get an answer out of BP, so it's time, and I told the president this morning, it's time for the federal government to take over the claims paying process, to oversee it directly, and then just send the bill to BP and hold them accountable for all the losses to small business persons, the environmental losses, the local government losses, and the state has many expenses, also. And this is no fault of ours. This is BP's fault. And I want the president to set up this escrow fund and hold BP accountable, as the company has said, and as the president has said.
DR: What's your view of the neighbors to the west? Some of the other Gulf states who have been aggressive in advocating for and pushing for offshore drilling, and those states have benefitted economically by collecting revenue with their association with offshore drilling. Florida, as you know well, has made a conscious choice not to permit offshore drilling in order to cultivate what has been an incredibly successful tourism business along the beaches. Do you believe your neighbors in the west who chose to enable offshore drilling also should be on the hook for the damage they're doing to Florida's tourism business?
AS: Well, we don't need to get into a fight amongst states here. We have a national problem. It's a federal government problem, you're right. Florida has always valued and put, as our priority, protection of our tourism industry. $60 billion a year and $6 billion comes directly here. Our number one priority has always been to protect our coastline, to protect our beaches, and the fact that this accident happened 125 miles out in the Gulf and is impacting us, it's just a crying shame. And people are crying out here, let me assure you.
DR: Understandably so. I have no doubt about it. Beyond BP, the government, and the neighbors, when you look at the American relationship with energy, and you look at BP or any offshore driller, it's basically our employee. We pay them to get us energy. We don't ask questions as long as we have cheap gas to put in the tank. We don't pay a price for the money we spend on military supporting our energy supplies. We charge limited royalties for energy supplies. We don't put any tax for potential environmental risks. We provide tax breaks, in fact, and as a result we consume four times more energy per person, four gallons of gasoline for every American for every gallon consumed by every one else in the world. Who does acknowledge the costs that our American political structure basically prevents anybody on the street level from having to deal with. How much are we guilty ourselves of either heckling politicians who would force us to deal with the real cost of energy, throwing them out of office if they would dare suggest that the energy is not actually fairly priced, and by being so willing to pay so much to somebody like BP to go 18,000 feet beneath the Gulf of Mexico to fill my SUV up and have a good time on Saturday?
AS: Well, Dylan, you're so right. This has got to be a wake up call to America. It's time for the politicians in Washington, for the federal government, and for the the special interests to pay attention and finally, establish a national energy policy, a policy that weans us off our reliance on foreign oil. We're in Florida, the Sunshine State. We think sunshine state because of tourists and beaches and year-round golf. Florida should be known as the sunshine state because we're number one at capturing the power of solar and renewable energy. It is time, the time is now.
DR: I could not agree with you more, Alex. We'll talk to you sooner rather than later.