Monday, February 19, 2018
Business

Bill Foster makes rare Tallahassee appearance to address flood insurance problem

TALLAHASSEE — In a pitch to Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet televised to thousands of homes Tuesday, St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster warned of a nightmare scenario.

Rising flood insurance rates would freeze real estate sales. Property taxes would drop. Seniors on fixed incomes would be priced out of homes. A second mortgage foreclosure crisis would begin.

Foster was drawing attention to the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, a 2012 law that is phasing out subsidized rates for older properties in flood zones, which Foster said would have a negative impact on 15,000 homes in St. Petersburg.

He asked Scott and Cabinet members to help persuade Congress to delay the implementation of the law, or risk "devastating" consequences.

"Just hit pause," Foster testified. "It will have a devastating impact on St. Petersburg and Pinellas County." Foster specifically suggested that Attorney General Pam Bondi file a lawsuit in attempt to force a moratorium. Bondi said after the meeting that they are reviewing their legal options.

It was the first time Foster addressed Scott and the Cabinet in his years as mayor. The timing of the address — a little more than a month before St. Petersburg's mayoral election — wasn't lost on opponent Rick Kriseman.

"You've got to wonder why Bill Foster is addressing the governor and the Cabinet for the first time in his career on an important issue 42 days before an election," said Kriseman, a former state representative. "He wasn't in Tallahassee fighting Citizens property insurance hikes, unfair nuclear advance fees or for a ban on offshore oil drilling. This is a political ploy before an election on an issue too important to the people of St. Petersburg."

Asked after his presentation if he was playing politics, Foster said, firmly, he was not.

"You know what, I don't stop doing my job because I'm running for mayor," he said. "I always do my job regardless of the timing, so that's it."

Foster said he hadn't appeared before the Cabinet before because he hadn't been invited. He said Scott invited him to speak on this issue because flood insurance posed a major problem for Pinellas County, making him mayor of "ground zero."

But Pinellas County Commissioner Susan Latvala said Foster had shown little interest in flood insurance until last week. She said Foster hasn't coordinated with county officials, who have been lobbying Congress for weeks hoping for a delay in the law.

"He's going off in his own direction as he always does," Latvala said.

Foster said he had been working with the Pinellas Realtor Organization since last week on a presentation. Joining him Tuesday was Brandi Gabbard, a Pinellas County real estate agent who is chair-elect of the Pinellas Realtor Organization, and Dean Asher, president of the Florida Realtors.

One of Foster's crucial allies in his campaign for re-election has been the real estate industry. He has been endorsed by the Pinellas Realtor Organization, and a group tied to Florida Realtors blanketed St. Petersburg with ads attacking one of Foster's opponents in the primary, Kathleen Ford.

"I cash their (contribution) checks with thanks," Foster said of the support from the real estate industry. "But as for electioneering, there has been no communication between the camps."

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