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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Battle over Citizens' rates is becoming a North v. South feud

It's deja vu all over again. The latest election year fight over the future of Citizens Property Insurance is coming down to a war between politicians representing the interior and North Florida counties, whose Citizens rates are low and whose constituents don't rely on the state-subsidized insurer, and politicians who represent the coastal and sinkhole counties who are dependent on the insurer.

Consider a letter sent today to the interim head of Citizens, Tom Grady, from 23 members of the state House and three state senators urging the insurer to move forward with its controversial plans to raise rates by as much as 30 percent in some areas. There's not a South Florida legislator in the bunch.

Contrast that with the threat announced two weeks ago by Sen.Anitere Flores, R-Miami and Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, who said they will file legislation next year if Citizens moves forward with its plan to raise rates on homeowners in vulnerable areas. Sen.Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, and Rep. Carlos Lopez Cantera, R-Miami, have been equally critical.

Interestingly, in the middle is Gov. Rick Scott. He has urged Citizens to do what it takes to reduce Citizens' exposure to risk -- which translates into raising the cost of insurance -- at the same time he says he wants to make it a priority to lower the cost of living in Florida.

Here's today's letter from Central and North Florida legislators:

Dear Mr. Grady,

We want lower homeowner’s insurance rates in Florida. There are so many things we wish were less expensive, including health care and gasoline .  But the recent debate about Citizens Insurance rates is not about the cost of the insurance – it’s about who is paying for it.  That is why we applaud the current Citizens board for recognizing that the current system is unsustainable, and for working for meaningful reform.

The purpose of insurance is to cover risk.  Within the private market, where most consumers in Florida purchase their insurance, the customers pay for the actual cost to provide that protection – without any government subsidy paid for by the taxpayers of Florida.  Not so with Citizens Insurance.

Adding new customers at subsidized rates is no more than a tax on every Floridian who does not have a Citizens policy – whether they live in central Florida, Miami, or Jacksonville.  So the real question here is this: Should a government-created insurer of last resort be offering policies essentially at a loss, while continuing to expand, pushing out private sector insurers, and subsidizing some homeowners at the expense of others?

We don't think that’s good public policy. It’s not fair.  It’s not fiscally sound. And it certainly does not reflect the core beliefs of a majority of the state Legislature, who passed a law requiring that Citizens become as financially solvent  as possible –  thus  reducing the need to tax all Floridians for future shortfalls in an emergency.

Citizens Insurance should move toward once again being the insurer of last resort – not the beginning of a government-created single-payer system that supplants the private sector.  We understand and share the desire for lower homeowner’s insurance rates.  However, Floridians who are currently paying full-price for their insurance in the private market don’t deserve to pay a subsidy for those on Citizens.  We are greatly encouraged by the board’s desire for reform and its willingness to tackle this very complex and difficult issue. 

To that end, we urge the board to continue working to eliminate the threat of tax increases on Florida’s families and to bring fairness to the system for all regions of Florida.

Sincerely,

Sen. Don Gaetz                      Sen. Alan Hays                      Sen. Garrett Richter 

Rep. Ben Albritton                  Rep. Dennis Baxley               Rep. Jim Boyd

Rep. Jason Brodeur              Rep. Daniel Davis                  Rep. Brad Drake

Rep. Eric Eisnaugle              Rep. Matt Gaetz                     Rep. Bill Hager

 Rep. Mike Horner                 Rep. Charles McBurney       Rep. Larry Metz

Rep. Bryan Nelson                Rep.  Kathleen Passidomo    Rep.  Scott Plakon

Rep.  Elizabeth Porter          Rep.  Stephen Precourt         Rep.  Lake Ray

Rep.  Kelli Stargel                 Rep.  John Tobia                   Rep.  Mike Weinstein

Rep.  Ritch Workman                   

[Last modified: Monday, June 4, 2012 4:24pm]

    

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