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Analysts puzzle over jobless claims from BP spill

by John Kennedy | July 14th, 2011

When the Florida Panhandle was staggered by the effects of last summer’s BP oil spill, hotels, restaurants and other employers along the coast laid-off workers and braced for economic calamity.

But state analysts looking to put a price on how much financial damage Florida absorbed remained puzzled Thursday by a recurring number. The state’s employment office, the Agency for Workforce Innovation, reports that only 735 unemployment claims have been directly linked to the oil spill.

Tom Clendenning, AWI’s chief-of-staff, told the state’s revenue estimating conference that 7,778 workers also were let go last year by the same employers who laid-off the 778. A survey is now being conducted to learn whether the 778 lost jobs should be increased — with the bill going to BP. 

Clendenning said that $2.3 million in unemployment benefits have been paid out related to the oil spill. Estimators are trying to determine how much in taxes and fees Florida taxpayers lost last year, in addition to benefit payouts.

One item estimators took off the table Thursday was lost revenue in traffic tickets, due to lost traffic. Estimators seemed to think that was too tough to quantify.

BP last week asked the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, which oversees claims, to reduce damage payments because the British oil giant said the region’s tourist economy has recovered and fisheries are back to work.

Florida U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, and Republican Marco Rubio are among officials disputing BP’s stance, saying there is too much uncertainty to claim the spill poses no future financial risk for coastal communities.

BP said it has paid Florida cities and counties about $10.6 million for revenue losses, in addition to millions more for cleanup, expenses and tourist promotion.

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