Analysis: When it comes to Citizens, property insurance costs, Gov. Rick Scott keeps mum [The Miami Herald]
|By Steve Bousquet and Toluse Olorunnipa, The Miami Herald|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
Scott has ordered internal investigations into spending practices at the state-backed
But tackling the price of insurance is a different story.
When it comes to the cost of living, Scott talks about taxes and tuition, but insurance seems rarely part of the conversation.
While Floridians have dodged a hurricane for seven years, the rising cost of property insurance looms as a potential major issue in the upcoming race for governor -- the political equivalent of a large, dangerous weather disturbance.
Nearly half of all
Scott's predecessor and possible future opponent,
That's not Scott's nature. A conservative supporter of free markets, he wants to shrink Citizens and lure more private companies into the
In places such as
Scott says his control over Citizens is limited: He appoints two of its eight board members.
The governor's most vocal stance on Citizens occurred at a Cabinet meeting in late 2011. Informed that the insurer was growing rapidly and struggling to control risk, Scott told then-president
"This is something we cannot continue to do," Scott said, harking back to a campaign promise to shrink risk at Citizens.
ONLY GETTING WORSE
By some measures, the problem has gotten worse since that Cabinet meeting. A month later, Wallace resigned, and was replaced by
In the months following, property insurance has receded from Scott's policy priority list, just as Citizens has become more aggressive than ever about remaking the company.
The Citizens board has cut back coverage, advanced a massive home re-inspection program and proposed uncapped rates on new policies.
The result is higher rates for less coverage, with homeowners facing huge spikes in insurance costs.
THE BACK DOOR
Citizens raised rates 10.8 percent last year, costing homeowners statewide an estimated
Both Citizens' critics and its board chairman,
"Through the back door, he [Scott] is putting pressure on Gilway and the board to do certain things," Fasano said. "But what he doesn't realize is that the pressure he's putting on them to shrink [Citizens] is having a negative effect on a lot of homeowners in this state."
While critics such as Fasano blame Scott for insurance rate increases, the governor maintains a limited view of his role in the property insurance debate.
Asked what he has done to address the state's property insurance problem, he said he has invited companies to come to
Citizens has a
The company was created in 2002 to help provide coverage for those who could not find it in the private market, which shrunk after Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Rates at Citizens are lower than what risk experts believe the company should be charging, but often higher than what homeowners can afford.
Fiscal conservatives say the government-run company is forcing inland residents to "subsidize" those near
"I don't believe that I ought to be subsidized by people who live in
A bill now being debated in the state
But Scott, whose 2010 platform promised to work with
The politics at Citizens has always been thorny. The company has issued 1.2 million policies that cover nearly a quarter of
"I just received my Citizens homeowner's insurance [bill], and I am appalled,"
A SLAP IN THE FACE
The emails flooding Scott's inbox have become more hostile, as allegations of Citizens' corporate misconduct and executive spending have surfaced. Homeowners complain that their premium increases are more discouraging when they hear about various management problems at Citizens.
In the past year, Scott has twice called for his inspector general to investigate allegations of waste and excess by Citizens executives. But the makeup of the board remains unchanged.
"I'm for making sure Citizens operates properly," Scott said. "The raises were ridiculous ... We're not paying for alcohol. They ought to have an inspector general. We ought to make sure the place works right, first."
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