Gov. Rick Scott doesn’t sound ready to ask U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio to change his position and back a U.S. House flood-insurance measure to temporarily halt hefty rate increases starting Oct. 1
Scott referenced the House measure in a letter last week to Rubio and Sen. Bill Nelson, who then proposed legislation to delay rate increases for a year. But Rubio didn’t go that far in a Thursday response, where he expressed his concerns, but faulted the House proposal.
When asked Friday about Rubio’s response, Scott said “my concern is for our economy, our families and our state.” He mentioned the issue was discussed this week at the Florida Cabinet meeting with St Petersburg’s mayor, Bill Foster.
“Sen. Rubio does a great job, he works very hard representing all the families of this state,” Scott said of his fellow Republican.
Scott had a more worried tone in a Sept. 17 letter and press released that said he “urges” Rubio and Nelson to act, noting “the House of Representatives has already passed an amendment to the Flood Insurance Reform Act this past June, mandating a one-year delay on rate increases.”
The National Flood Insurance Program’s finances were badly damaged after the 2005 storm season – when Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans – and now is about $24 billion in the red.
To shore up the program, Congress in 2012 passed a reform that requires the program to raise rates about 25 percent yearly for some properties that are being charged rates that are too low relative to the flood risk in the area.
That encompasses about 50,000 Florida policy holders who own businesses, second homes and homes that have had severe or repetitive losses.
Those policy holders with just one home won’t see rate increases unless their policy lapses or they have severe or multiple claims. And if they sell their homes, the new buyers would have to bear the full brunt of the rates. That, politicians and the real-estate industry say, would hurt the real-estate market.
This isn’t the only insurance problem bedeviling hurricane-prone Florida regarding government-involved insurance. And it’s laden with politics.
Scott and the Legislature have been actively trying to decrease the size of the state’s insurer of last resort, Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, allowing rates to rise on a “glide path” in the process.
Scott said Congress should do the same with flood insurance, but after putting off the rate increases.
“I think first off, they ought to postpone it,” Scott said. “I think they should to do what we’ve done, we did a glide path on Citizens. They ought to be doing the same thing.”
Some of Scott’s property-insurance reforms have undone those of his predecessor and potential future challenger, Gov. Charlie Crist, who delayed Citizens rate increases in 2007 and expanded it to make the program more financially stable.
Crist’s reforms -- bashed by the insurance industry just as Scott’s were cheered by it – were backed at the time by then House Speaker Rubio, who subsequently struck a more conservative posture and expressed regret about the government intrusion in the market place.
Three years after voting with Crist, Rubio beat him in the U.S. Senate race.
Rubio didn’t mention his conservative smaller-government philosophy in his letter Thursday, however and he said he has heard “legitimate concerns from thousands of Floridians and people who represent them, and l am increasingly concerned that the scheduled rate increases would have a devastating impact on Florida’s economy and housing market.”
But Rubio faulted congressional proposals because they “do not offer long term solutions, or in the case of the House of Representatives’ language, only address rate changes relating to flood maps and not the imminent rate increases facing some policy holders in Florida.”
Nelson, who had first raised the rate issue in Florida earlier this month, asked Scott and CFO Jeff Atwater last week to help lobby Republicans who, Nelson said, were blocking a fix.
"Out of concern for numerous Floridians that will be affected by these rate increases,” Nelson, a Democrat and former Florida insurance commissioner wrote, “I respectfully request your help with Republican members to get the votes to pass such a measure.”
Atwater, a Republican, wrote back Thursday, noting that “We are facing these rate hikes not because of a small minority that helped pass a bill. Rather, a large majority in Washington voted for the present legislation, doing so without warning their constituents of its consequences,” Atwater wrote.
“In fact, not a single Democrat in the House or Senate voted against the current policy that is the source of the rate hikes.”