News & Updates


Editorial: Homeowners at risk

 04/06/2010 © Tallahassee Democrat (Requires Login)

Lawmakers seem increasingly prepared, and so they should be, to challenge Gov. Charlie Crist’s threat to once again veto legislation that would open up the property insurance market and make it stable enough to ensure property owners would actually get a payout if the worst comes to pass.

In the interest of consoling property owners in 2006 who complained, sometimes justly, that their rates were too high, the governor has led the parade too far in the other direction. He has marched Florida into the eye of a withering storm that would far exceed the physical chaos of a terrible hurricane season.

State over-regulation of the insurance market since 2007 has left Florida, and all homeowners therein, in the perilous state of being one big hurricane away from a catastrophe that might not only destroy their homes, but also scuttle any real chance of getting paid for their losses.

Florida TaxWatch on Monday emphasized what Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, and Rep. Bill Proctor, R-St. Augustine, the legislative champions of the so-called consumer-choice bill, have been saying for at least two years. Florida’s self-insurance programs, Citizens Property Insurance Corp. and the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund, are not up to paying claims when the next colossal hurricane strikes. Both now face enormous potential shortfalls.

And the private market has been stymied, keeping away longtime, trusted companies such as State Farm, while drawing an interest in Florida’s market from only an array of niche companies, about 60 percent of which don’t even write policies in the vital homeowners’ market. When State Farm sought a 47.1-percent rate increase following two seasons of major hurricanes, Mr. Crist was willing to send them into exile.

We’ve been lucky — the governor, politically, even luckier — that in the last few years no killer hurricane has hit our vulnerable peninsula.

But that day is inevitable, and Florida needs a more robust insurance market to have any chance of addressing the urgency of that catastrophe.(2 of 2)

“Low-cost insurance may be the most expensive kind someone can buy, especially if that claim cannot be paid,” said Mr. Proctor when Florida TaxWatch unveiled its major analysis of Florida’s property insurance game of Russian roulette. And State Farm’s estimates of what is actuarially sound turn out to be today’s reality.

“Should a major storm hit,” added Rep. David Murzin, chairman of the Economic Development and Community Affairs policy council, “Florida will be forced to borrow tens of billions of dollars — more money than any state has ever borrowed — and the interest payments alone will suck billions of dollars out of the state for decades to come.” Former State Rep. Don Brown, an insurance expert, estimated as much as “$20 billion, which is an impossible amount.”

The assessments on such an occurrence will sink taxpayers — even those who own no property but will pay through auto insurance and other hidden hurricane taxes — and would discourage businesses from investing or locating in Florida, or thriving once here.

Some proposed legislation must be written into law.

HB 1495 would bolster both Citizens and the Cat Fund by allowing rate increases by Citizens (capped at 10 percent per year until they reach actuarially sound levels) and also reduced coverage through the Cat Fund. Citizens should be prohibited from insuring new structures in high-risk coastal areas; it’s meant to be the insurer of last resort, not the big spender, high roller who takes on all risks.

The Legislature also must send again to the governor, and be willing to override his promised veto, the consumer choice bill (SB 876/HB 447) that would create an incentive for investors to bring their capital to Florida and help protect against the current threat of insolvency.

Lawmakers need to bring the insurance market back into balance with the public system and the private markets both in spreading the risks to the point that the loss from any single event can be absorbed — and life in the Sunshine state can return to normal instead of lying in ruins.