More than taxes, more than education, more than any other issue emanating forth from Tallahassee, the single issue facing the next Governor that could affect Keys residents and business owners the most is what to do with Citizens Property Insurance. For Keys and coastal people, this issue could potentially cost us more than any other initiative or proposal coming from the Florida Legislature.
Through the hard work of FIRM (Fair Insurance Rates for Monroe, www.firmkeys.org), Citizens rates were frozen and have been severely regulated since. Most private insurance companies won’t write hurricane or windstorm coverage in Florida and Citizens – the so-called insurer of last resort” – is now the largest windstorm insurer in Florida. Being publicly subsidized, and being the largest windstorm insurer, one might think that there would be fair and equitable treatment for all Citizens policyholders. This, however, is not the case.
Flash back to the 2004 hurricane season. After Bonnie, Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne all slammed into Florida (and showed that inland houses and structures were just as vulnerable to hurricane winds as coastal buildings), I thought that common sense would prevail and that the state would engage in realistic windstorm insurance reform. I thought that legislators would see that the state is really one large risk pool, and that we Keys people (who already have strict storm-mitigating building codes) might get fairer treatment. Boy, was I wrong.
You see, us Keys people can’t catch a break in Tallahassee. There aren’t enough of us to make a difference when it comes to influencing statewide elections. But get enough people in Tampa or Tallahassee complaining about their Citizens rates, and you see why there are major differences in the rates we all pay. FIRM has succeeded for all of us in the Keys, however, by simply pounding away at state officials with facts, not politics.
Unfortunately, the dirty world of politics is where we once again find ourselves. The next Governor will help set the tone in Tallahassee, and there are major differences between the two candidates. Both say Citizens is broken and needs to be made “actuarially sound.”
As Florida’s CFO, Alex Sink has been in charge of Citizens for the past four years. She recognizes the problems, but claims to understand how Citizens rate increases affect homeowners. She proposes to cap Citizens rate increases at 10% per year. FIRM would likely argue that we’re already paying too much as it is compared with Citizens policyholders in other areas of Florida – policyholders that Keys payers are subsidizing.
Rick Scott thinks that if Citizens’ rates are raised, that private insurers will return to the state and overall costs will come down. He wants to see Citizens return to being the insurer of last resort. Scott claims that if the state were to deregulate the insurance industry, more policies would be written and costs will come down.
Let me see if I understand: the key to lower rates is to raise rates and allow rates to be raised??? Why didn’t I think of that?!?
You see why the choice for Governor (and legislators, although we only get to vote for one of those) is so important this year? Sure, there are plenty of other issues. The budget climate will still suck. Unemployment is still up. Revenues are still down. There won’t be $200 million for Keys sewers anytime soon. The state will still claim not to be raising taxes while they raise “fees” (like car registrations, cigarette “surcharges,” and licensing costs) to the tune of billions. And I can almost live with all of that.
What I – and most other Keys homeowners and business owners I know – can’t live with are the continual rate increases that we’re going to see over the next several years. Remember that we really don’t count in Tallahassee, and that FIRM’s mission today is as important as it ever was.
And when you make your decision about our next Governor, remember the words of the old knight in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: “Choose wisely.”