Crist conjures specter of veto
H-T Capital Bureau
Published: Tuesday, May 5, 2009 at 1:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, May 4, 2009 at 11:54 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE – With lawmakers almost done with their work for this year, Gov. Charlie Crist must now decide the fate of dozens of bills and spending items that will soon reach his desk.
And Crist is already sending signals that he may use his veto pen. Crist said Monday that a bill that would remove rate regulation on certain private insurance companies "gives me some pause." The bill would allow companies, including State Farm, the state’s largest corporate insurer, to set rates above state restrictions and essentially give consumers the choice of paying more.
Crist has been an outspoken critic of State Farm’s rates, so a veto would not be unexpected. Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty has criticized the bill, as did a handful of legislators who warned it could lead to big rate increases.
Sen. Michael Bennett, R-Bradenton, sponsor of the insurance bill, said that he will personally lobby Crist and urge him to sign the bill. Bennett maintains that if someone is willing to pay higher rates to stay with a company like State Farm then they should have that choice. State Farm announced this year it planned to pull out of Florida after regulators turned down the company’s nearly 50 percent rate increase request.
"There are some people who say, ’This is freedom of choice and I don’t want to deal with the state of Florida and Citizens, and I want to deal with a national company,’" Bennett said.
Crist, however, did say that he will probably sign another insurance bill passed last Friday that would allow Citizens Property Insurance — the state created property insurer — to raise its rates 10 percent a year. Lawmakers had previously frozen Citizens rates but now many are worried that the state’s largest insurer is overexposed and could run into a deficit if a large storm hit Florida.
"That’s probably appropriate," Crist said. "I would rather not have rate increases. Who wouldn’t? But I want to make sure the company stays solvent and secure."
During budget negotiations over the weekend, Crist also warned that he might use his veto pen on the state budget if lawmakers fail to reach a deal this week on an agreement that would let the Seminole Tribe of Florida expand gambling at tribe casinos.
The annual session of the Legislature is expected to grind to a close on Friday — a week later than usual — when legislators are expected to approve a roughly $65 billion spending plan for the state.
Crist had a tough session, with many of his top priorities either discarded or rejected by the GOP-controlled Legislature.
That could prompt Crist to exact revenge — especially in the budget, where he has line-item veto power — but on Monday he did not provide details about what exactly he would do.
Crist, for example, did not say if he would veto a $5 million spending item for the University of South Florida Polytechnic campus pushed into the budget by Sen. JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, over the weekend.
"The legislators have the right to do that, they are the appropriators after all," Crist said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.