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Gov. Crist and Cabinet bash BP's response to oil spill, demand payment for losses

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Charlie Crist and Florida's Cabinet publicly lashed out at one of BP's top executives Tuesday as frustration continued to mount over what they consider a lackluster response to the plight of businesses crippled by the oil disaster and the insufficient cleanup effort.

In the oil giant's defense, BP senior vice president Robert Fryar repeated the company's promise that it would not rest until the well is "under control" and would pay "all legitimate claims" before he was flogged by the state's top officers.

He announced that BP would be sending the state another $25 million check to pay for clean up efforts.

But Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, who requested that BP's chief executive appear before the Cabinet, chastised Fryar for the burdensome claims process and the meager payments to businesses trying to recover their losses.

"Do you know what they call the $5,000 checks they're getting?" she asked, referring to the monthly checks business owners can collect as they await reimbursement for larger losses. "They call it shut up money."

She said businesses need more than $5,000 to stay afloat. While BP is willing to send them monthly checks for minimum payments, she said, it gives businesses "the runaround" when they attempt to appeal for more.

Crist reminded Fryar that BP paid out $1.5 billion in dividends to stockholders in the last quarter and was "the fourth-largest corporation on the planet." He agreed the BP claims process was unacceptable and demanded that it expand the number of claims offices in the state from eight to 30, one in each county bordering the Gulf of Mexico.

Attorney General Bill McCollum complained that the company was lax in pursuing experimental technology that could more efficiently clean up the gulf and called for more booms and skimmers. But he saved his fury for the federal government, which he said was just as responsible for the disaster response as BP.

"I'm ticked at both of them," he said.

McCollum, a Republican running for governor, and Sink, his Democratic rival, used the BP appearance to address many of their political talking points. Sink touted her monthlong record of calling for BP to focus on assisting businesses hurt by the disaster, and McCollum noted that BP was now screening temporary workers to avoid hiring illegal immigrants.

"I have a strong aversion to hiring illegals," he said.

Meanwhile, Crist gathered ammunition for a special session to call in lawmakers back to the capital to put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would ban oil drilling off Florida's shores.

The Department of Revenue suggested that another item could be added to the agenda: tax relief for properties that have declined in value because of the oil disaster. Similar laws have been passed to help property owners hurt by wildfires and hurricanes.

Property appraisers from Santa Rosa and Escambia counties in the Panhandle have asked for the tax break, warning that property owners are likely to endure a loss in value this year but face tax payments based on assessments in place before the oil troubles.

Sink said she is urging businesses, individuals and local governments to carefully documents their losses from the oil disaster.

"This is going to be an incredibly complex legal tangle to untangle and to ensure that everybody is compensated fairly," she said.

Times staff writer Lee Logan contributed to this report. Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@ MiamiHerald.com.

Gov. Crist and Cabinet bash BP's response to oil spill, demand payment for losses 06/08/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 8, 2010 10:27pm]
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