TaxWatch: Override Crist’s Veto
’state farm bill’
Government watchdog group says state needs big property insurance companies, should let them set rates.
By Bill Rufty
Ledger POLITICAL EDITOR
LAKELAND | The Florida House and Senate should meet to overturn Gov. Charlie Crist’s veto of the Insurance Consumer Choice Bill, the director of a government watchdog group said Thursday.
Dominic Calabro, executive director of Florida TaxWatch, was in Lakeland to address a meeting of area TaxWatch members and said Crist’s veto of House Bill 1171, should be overturned.
The bill known locally as the "State Farm Bill" because area legislators said it could save 500 jobs at Winter Haven-based State Farm, would allow highly capitalized insurance companies to set their own rates without state regulation.
The bill passed by at least two-thirds votes in both the House and the Senate, which is the same amount required to override a gubernatorial veto.
Calabro said the current system in Florida, without the big companies being allowed to charge higher rates, leavesproperty insurance companies in Florida dangerously under capitalized.
He said that is especially true of the state insurance fund of last resort, Citizens Property Insurance Corporation. In the event of a major hurricane and its damages, he said, the fund couldn’t cover claims.
"They (Florida leaders) will go whining their way to Washington. Unfortunately, they will have to get in line, and it is a very long line,” he said.
Every year following the end of the legislative session TaxWatch makes recommendations on budget items it thinks are unnecessary and should be vetoed. It is called the Turkey List.
Because of the severe economic problems this year, the organization’s Turkey List was much smaller than before.
"But there were still $15 million in turkeys," Calabro said. "The bigger story is that the state budget is being buffeted by funds coming from the federal stimulus. Those will be gone in two years, and there is a lot that the state must do to prepare for that day. Three years from now, the economy still will not have recovered fully, and that means $5.8 billion (the size of the stimulus) needs to be cut."
There are still several areas that can be streamlined, Calabro said, suggesting some examples. Among the 67 school boards, he asked, are 67 payrolls and 67 human resource units really needed, or could they be centralized for additional savings.
"And then you look at state agencies, which have a press secretary and then two assistant press secretaries. Now you may say that only saves $2 or $3 million, but it is trimming the waste and adding up,” he said.
In December, the TaxWatch celebrates its 30th anniversary. Among the local founders were former Publix President Mark Hollis and the late founder and chairman of the grocery chain, George Jenkins.
"We maintain a high degree of integrity and respect from those knowledgeable in government with research and facts. We are interested in tax value, government accountability and citizen understanding of financial issues,” Calabro said.
"Gubernatorial candidates in both parties have used our facts and figures in their campaigns."
The group is bipartisan, he said, and concentrates on constructive, well researched and practical suggestions for a trim, but efficient state government.
[ Ledger Political Editor Bill Rufty can be reached at 802-7523 or firstname.lastname@example.org. ]