Monday, December 18, 2017
Business

Lawmakers' proposal would boost Citizens Property rates

TALLAHASSEE — Rocked by a series of corporate scandals — and with its CEO facing a tough confirmation hearing — Citizens Property Insurance Corp. has gone increasingly positive with its messaging in recent weeks. The company says it has done a superb job of reducing risk over the last year, and the chance of "hurricane taxes" has plummeted by 43 percent.

That message clashes squarely with the apocalyptic warnings echoing through the Florida Legislature, where lawmakers are using "tough medicine" themes to push a bill that would cause insurance rates to skyrocket.

Lawmakers, espousing the doomsday rhetoric of the insurance lobby, say Florida is one hurricane away from financial destruction, and shrinking Citizens by raising rates is the fiscally prudent thing to do.

Citizens made similar arguments last year, but of late the company has backpedaled from much of its austerity message and measures. Policy changes last year, while unpopular, have helped Citizens to shrink rapidly, removing much of the threat that Floridians will have to bail the company out after a storm.

By the time hurricane season rolls around, Citizens "will have reduced assessment potential for Floridians by $3 billion, or 43 percent," CEO Barry Gilway told lawmakers this week during a confirmation hearing to keep his job. "Now, I want to repeat those numbers, because it's huge."

It's a much different message from the one coming from reform-minded lawmakers in Tallahassee.

"If the hurricane doesn't even go through your area, your constituents will be assessed upwards of between $2,000 and $5,000 per year," Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, told lawmakers Wednesday.

In presenting his bill, Simmons used figures from 2012, before Citizens reduced exposure drastically. Citizens clarified that the numbers used by Simmons were inflated.

But gasp-inspiring warnings about billion-dollar "hurricane taxes" are nothing new in Florida, part of the showmanship required to pass property insurance bills in the Legislature.

Each year, lawmakers and the business lobby pitch rate increases at Citizens, warning of the "Big One" and the financial wreckage it would cause. But because Florida has dodged hurricanes for seven years, Republicans from coastal regions have joined Democrats to kill bills that would raise homeowners' insurance rates.

SB 1770 could break that trend, despite the fact that it could bring hundreds or thousands of dollars in higher insurance costs for homeowners. It passed its final committee Wednesday in a unanimous vote.

Included in the complicated, 92-page bill, among other measures:

• Citizens' rates must be actuarially sound, include an appropriate risk load factor and not compete with the private market. Each of those three measures could mean rates at Citizens increase much faster than 10 percent, the current cap on rate hikes.

• Rates for some second homes and new policyholders at Citizens must be higher than the rate charged by the top 20 private insurance companies, leading to large premium hikes for thousands of homeowners.

• Insurance companies may charge higher rates to cover additional reinsurance purchased for a potential catastrophic hurricane.

In parts of South Florida and Tampa Bay, Citizens rates are technically "underpriced" by 90 percent or more. Under SB 1770, homeowners in those areas could see insurance premiums — which already average more than $2,500 — double.

The idea, Simmons said, is to reduce Citizens' size and risk and make it less likely that Floridians pay "hurricane taxes" after a major storm.

Comments
Another reason to buy a home in Tampa Bay? Down payments are lower here

Another reason to buy a home in Tampa Bay? Down payments are lower here

Homebuyers in the Tampa Bay area don’t have to shell out as much on downpayments as buyers in many other places. According to ATTOM Data Solutions, the median downpayment for a bay area home in the quarter ended in September was $13,750 compare...
Updated: 1 hour ago

First-Citizens Bank & Trust acquires Tampa-based HomeBancorp

TAMPA — North Carolina-based First-Citizens Bank & Trust Co. is acquiring Tampa-headquartered HomeBancorp, which operates HomeBanc. First Citizens Bank will pay $15.03 per share in cash, a Monday release said, and the deal is expected to close by mid...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Video: Chick fil-A feeds thousands of hungry travelers stranded in Atlanta airport

Video: Chick fil-A feeds thousands of hungry travelers stranded in Atlanta airport

Chick fil-A is normally closed on Sundays, but it made an exception for the thousands who were stranded at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. The travelers were left in the dark following a power outage that forced cancellation of mor...
Updated: 1 hour ago
St. Pete-Clearwater airport expects holiday parking crunch, so consider arranging a ride

St. Pete-Clearwater airport expects holiday parking crunch, so consider arranging a ride

CLEARWATER — With passenger traffic picking up on Monday and expected to stay strong through Dec. 29, St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport says it could run out of parking spaces, so passengers should consider making arrangements to be dropped o...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Florida gas prices back to pre-Hurricane Harvey levels

Florida gas prices back to pre-Hurricane Harvey levels

Just in time for one of the busiest travel periods of the year, gas prices across Florida are back down to pre-Hurricane Harvey levels. Tampa Bay gas hit $2.30 per gallon today, while state prices averaged $2.37 per gallon, according to AAA, The Auto...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Tampa flights affected as Atlanta airport outage creates holiday chaos

Tampa flights affected as Atlanta airport outage creates holiday chaos

ATLANTA — While power has been restored to the world’s busiest airport, the travel woes will linger for days.Thousands of people were stranded Monday morning at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, where more than 1,000 flights were gro...
Updated: 5 hours ago

Bitcoin futures begin trading on CME, price little changed

NEW YORK — Another security based on the price of bitcoin, the digital currency that has soared in value and volatility this year, began trading on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange on Sunday. The CME Group, which owns the exchange, opened up bitcoin f...
Published: 12/17/17
Vology landlord challenges property tax assessment

Vology landlord challenges property tax assessment

LARGO — Eight months after paying $10.15 million for the office building that houses IT services company Vology, a New York company is suing the Pinellas County Property Appraiser and Florida Department of Revenue contending its $5.5 million ta...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Fueled by indulgence and machismo, restaurants are a hotbed for sexual harassment

Fueled by indulgence and machismo, restaurants are a hotbed for sexual harassment

When Brenda Terry was 16 and living in St. Louis, she was a host and food runner at a sports bar where female employees wore cute little cheerleading skirts. One night, she said, a patron grabbed her crotch. She ran to her management team and they de...
Published: 12/15/17
Updated: 12/17/17
Taxpayer subsidies of Tampa golf courses are on the rise as struggles continue

Taxpayer subsidies of Tampa golf courses are on the rise as struggles continue

TAMPA — For the half of the year that Harry Nichols lives in Oldsmar, he plays 18 holes several times a month at Rocky Point Golf Course. On a good day, Nichols said he shoots close to par on the Dana Shores course. And if he’s really lucky, it’ll on...
Published: 12/15/17
Updated: 12/16/17