NOTE: Okaloosa District 3 Congressman and Holt resident Nathan Boyles addressed the Aug. 30 Triumph Gulf Coast Application Process Drafting Committee at its meeting. His editorial below encapsulates his words to the committee.
Triumph Gulf Coast Inc. was established by the Legislature with the responsibility of spending 1.5 billion dollars over the next 12 years in eight panhandle counties including Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton. The money entrusted to Triumph represents reparations from BP for the harm caused to our economy and our environment and that money belongs to you.
Triumph, led by a board of volunteers appointed by the Governor and heads of the Legislature, are hard at work writing rules that will govern the expenditure of the money. A stark contrast between two philosophies is developing. One side believes the money should be used to stimulate economic development by providing direct grants to private, for-profit businesses. Economic incentives are nothing new and Triumph was born out of the twin economic devastations of the Great Recession and the BP oil spill. At the time of the drafting of the original legislation, the economy was still sputtering and unemployment was up. Governor Rick Scott ran and won on a platform of job creation, and rightfully so. Yet times are different now, unemployment is about as low as it can go at 3.5 percent. Anything lower and economic growth will struggle because of a lack of available work force.
The alternate viewpoint is that Triumph funds should be used for transformative infrastructure projects. Important projects for which there simply is not adequate funding now or anticipated in the foreseeable future. This group argues that continued failure to address growing traffic problems will strangle future economic growth. Certainly, one need only attempt to run the gauntlet that is Highway 85 south of Crestview once on a rainy Wednesday afternoon (or sunny afternoon for that matter) for an example of our infrastructure stretched beyond capacity.
Count me in the latter camp. Economic growth is important but growth that outstrips available infrastructure making life miserable for those of us who live and work on the beautiful Emerald Coast is simply unwise and unproductive. We already have world class beaches, excellent schools and a strong economy. Why shouldn’t we have first class infrastructure, infrastructure that will meet the needs of tomorrow, not yesterday? Why shouldn’t Triumph money build a by-pass circle around Crestview or additional interstate interchanges or a flyover at the intersection of 98 and 331 or improve traffic flow through Navarre? None of these projects are funded by DOT simply because of a lack of money, but each could be funded by Triumph.
The trouble is that the decision makers aren’t being informed. I attended and shared my thoughts above at a Triumph Committee meeting held in Destin [Aug. 30] and the strong balance of the small number of speakers were there either to promote a pet project or sell consulting services. The public was largely absent and the Triumph members in attendance still seem to be focused on doling out public money to private businesses with good ideas. One board member went so far as to suggest that applicants should not need anything more than a “good idea” to receive funding. In that case, count me in. I have a few great business ideas that I would like to try out with someone else’s money!
If you think Triumph should fund private business ventures, fine. Speak up. And if you think that our money, your money, should be used for tangible infrastructure projects that will benefit Northwest Florida for 100 years, then say that too. Send me your thoughts. My staff and I will collect every comment we receive and present those to the Triumph Board members on your behalf. Comments can be sent to Nboyles@co.okaloosa.fl.us. But don’t wait. In a few short weeks Triumph will be finalizing the rules of the game and it is a game Northwest Florida can’t afford to lose.
Nathan Boyles, Commissioner, District 3