Sink to lawmakers who want more time to bring oil relief bills: 'Shame'
TALLAHASSEE - Jeff Elbert says he can't hold on much longer. His family souvenir business, which started off 30 years ago on Pensacola Beach with his mother hand-painting sand dollars, has survived the recession and a succession of hurricanes. But it may not survive the massive oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico. "I can't tell you how devastating this is to my family and the small business owners,'' Elbert said at a news conference called by Alex Sink, the chief financial officer for the state of Florida and a Democratic candidate for governor. "I've not received one cent from BP.''Sink called the news conference this morning - two hours before the noon showdown in the Legislature -- to urge lawmakers to focus on more than just the proposed constitutional ban on near-shore drilling. Flanked by legislators from both the House and Senate, she reiterated her call for them to act on issues that would give Floridians struggling from the impact of the oil some much-needed help. Sink wants to mandate faster claims fulfillment and provide tax relief for businesses and residents, among other items. She accused the Legislature of being tone-deaf and twiddling its thumbs for the last 90 days. And she lashed out at House members who have indicated they will convene and then immediately adjourn without considering the ban or any other issues. "They will stand at their desks to claim they don't have enough time,'' Sink said, pointing out they had enough time to try to push through a drilling bill in the last days of the 2009 session. "Shame.'' Elbert, who also is the president of the Pensacola Beach Chamber of Commerce, said he filed a claim with BP in May and has worked with four different adjusters. And still, he said, he has not received any money. "The people seem to have been forgotten,'' he said. "My tourist season here never really started. It ends on Labor Day. If I don't have any money by then, I will have to go out of business.'' Sink was outraged at the delay in his claim. "You just don't jack people around like that,'' she said. Business owners across the Panhandle have been hit especially hard by the financial toll of the BP oil spill that began April 20, when the rig Deepwater Horizon exploded off the Louisiana coast. Crude from the uncapped well spewed into the Gulf until last week. Hotels have seen bookings dwindle, charter fishing trips are way down and anyone who relies on tourism or the water for their livelihoods has been challenged the last few months. Several counties - such as Escambia, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa - have spent millions of dollars for oil cleanup issues. That spending comes at the same time that counties are financially strapped and have fewer fiscal resources to pay for such things. "How many more stories does the Legislature need to hear?'' Sink asked. "It's been 90 days.''
Reporter Rob Shaw can be reached at (813) 259-7999.