Gov. Rick Scott blasted top executives at Citizens Property Insurance for “foolish” behavior Wednesday, calling on them to give back large pay raises they received last year.
“First off, they have these outrageous pay raises,” Scott said in an interview “They ought to give that back. Those ought to go back.”
The raises, first reported by the Herald/Times, came as the state-run company was increasing homeowners’ insurance rates and scaling back coverage. Scott said no one told him about the pay hikes—which were as large as $31,000—and made it clear that he did not approve.
Citizens has been through a number of controversies in the last year as news of the company’s spending habits has come to light. Expenditures unearthed by the Herald/Times, independent auditors and Scott’s chief inspector general include gourmet dinners, alcohol, international travel and stays in $600-a-night hotels.
A Citizens spokesperson said the company will "revisit" its board-approved compensation plan and "make a revised recommendation at the March meeting."
In a Wednesday opinion piece in the Bradenton Herald, Citizens’ board chairman Carlos Lacasa said that the company has “sound internal governance” and the raises were merited due to increased responsibilities and comparisons with the private insurance industry.
"The raises also followed three straight years of no merit raises and were accompanied by a decrease to benefits in the form of increased health insurance premiums and higher co-pays,” Lacasa wrote.
Scott said that his staff had heard Citizens’ rationale for raising the salaries, but he remained critical of the pay increases, which went out to some of the highest-paid execs at the state-run insurer. Employees at state agencies have not received a raise in six years.
On several occasions, Scott made mention of executives’ use of the corporate credit card to buy alcohol, including purchases brought to light by Chief Inspector General Melinda Miguel.
Citizens responded to Scott’s inspector general by saying that Lacasa had reimbursed the company for $300 in alcohol purchased at a company dinner last June. Receipts obtained by the Times/Herald show that seven or eight officials at Citizens ordered about $369 of red wine and Grey Goose Vodka during a $918 dinner at Orlando’s Ocean Prime restaurant.
“We shouldn’t be reimbursing them for alcohol,” Scott said. “This is a state organized entity. It shouldn’t be any different.”