Sunday, December 17, 2017
Editorials

Editorial: Congress must act to ease pain of flood insurance rates

The longer it takes Washington to respond to suffocating new flood insurance rates for millions of property owners, the clearer it is that last year's so-called reforms to the National Flood Insurance Program need more work. On Tuesday, a bipartisan group of senators including Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio renewed a promise to persuade Congress to embrace a retroactive delay on higher premiums for homes built before federal flood maps existed. That would be a start, but the broader aim of any new legislation should be a reconsideration of the assumptions used to calculate the exorbitant rates in the first place.

Contrary to popular misconceptions, the subsidies for flood insurance granted under the national flood program aren't just for expensive waterfront homes. As the Tampa Bay Times reported Tuesday, of the 33,000 older homes in Pinellas County receiving subsidies, the median value is $132,245 and the size is typically 1,430 square feet. Two out of three of the homes don't have a view of the water — even in peninsular Pinellas. Under changes effective Tuesday as part of the Biggert-Waters Act of 2012, those homeowners will face substantially higher rates when they renew — roughly 20 percent each year for the next five years to reach so-called "market rates." Even more devastating for the real estate market and the Florida economy: New owners of such homes must pay the "market rate" immediately.

But just what is the market rate based on? Even senators said Tuesday that's unclear. Part of the law's goal is to create a program solvent enough so that future Treasury loans won't be necessary, and to retire about $25 billion in loans the flood insurance program has in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. But how quickly that debt is retired has a big impact on rates. In some cases, for example, Times reporters have found new rates that mean a new owner of an older home would pay rates equal to one-twelfth the value of their home every year. Biggert-Waters had anticipated providing some relief from the new rates on a by-need basis, based on the results of an affordability study that still hasn't been completed.

No one disputes that the program needs long-term reform. But causing short-term economic calamity for families and dozens of communities nationwide is irresponsible. And nowhere is that danger more acute than in Florida, which has five of the top 10 counties in the country impacted by Tuesday's rate changes: Pinellas, Miami-Dade, Lee, Broward and Collier.

Rubio finally got past Washington's current partisan theatrics to embrace his responsibility to help find a solution for Floridians. Far less helpful was the partisanship of Gov. Rick Scott, who tried to blame President Barack Obama. Only the U.S. House and Senate can do the work needed to fix Biggert-Waters. It's time for Congress to do its job.

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Editorial: Warren’s smart approach on guns, domestic violence

Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren would make it safer for victims and police alike with his plan to remove firearms from defendants charged with domestic violence. These cases are toxic enough, and having guns at the ready only adds to a dang...
Published: 12/15/17
Editorial: St. Petersburg council right to reject Bayfront deal

Editorial: St. Petersburg council right to reject Bayfront deal

The St. Petersburg City Council made the difficult but correct decision this week to reject the proposed sale of a local nonprofit’s minority stake in Bayfront hospital. Despite months of negotiations, there were too many questions, a few suspicions ...
Published: 12/15/17
Editorial: Congress should fix flood insurance, children’s health insurance before Christmas

Editorial: Congress should fix flood insurance, children’s health insurance before Christmas

Here’s a snapshot of misplaced priorities in Washington. Last week, the Federal Communications Commission foolishly rushed to scrap net neutrality rules and allow internet service providers to treat different content differently despite overwhelming ...
Published: 12/14/17
Updated: 12/15/17
Editorial: Scott’s smart changes to sexual harassment policy

Editorial: Scott’s smart changes to sexual harassment policy

With misconduct allegations rippling through all levels of government, Gov. Rick Scott has taken the prudent step of ordering uniform sexual harassment policies throughout state agencies. The executive order strengthens protections for victims, which...
Published: 12/14/17
Updated: 12/15/17
Editorial: MOSI faces a clean slate and should give everyone a piece of chalk

Editorial: MOSI faces a clean slate and should give everyone a piece of chalk

For three years, the only news about finances at Tampa’s Museum of Science and Industry was bad news: "Struggling MOSI asks Hillsborough County for $400,000 loan," one headline read, "Audit sees MOSI finances slipping," read another, and "MOSI donor ...
Published: 12/14/17
Updated: 12/15/17
Editorial: Rubio should make good his threat to oppose tax cuts without changes

Editorial: Rubio should make good his threat to oppose tax cuts without changes

For once, it would be nice to see Sen. Marco Rubio stand up as the independent leader he aspires to become. For once, the Florida Republican should hold his position rather than bow to pragmatic politics. Rubio can stick with his threat Thursday to v...
Published: 12/14/17

Another voice: A shameful anniversary

Josephine "Joey" Gay should have celebrated her 12th birthday this week. She should have been surrounded by friends and family in a place festooned with purple, her favorite color.Chase Kowalski should have been working toward a Boy Scout merit badge...
Published: 12/13/17
Updated: 12/14/17
Editorial: Congress should block efforts to expand offshore drilling

Editorial: Congress should block efforts to expand offshore drilling

Timing is everything, and Sen. Bill Nelson seized the right moment this week to call on his colleagues to pass legislation he filed earlier this year that would block the Trump administration from opening additional areas to offshore drilling. With t...
Published: 12/13/17

Another voice: Alabama picks an honorable man

THANK YOU, Alabama.In Tuesday’s special election, the state by a narrow margin chose to spare the nation the indignity of seating an accused child molester in the U.S. Senate. Though the stain of electing Republican Roy Moore would have sullied Alaba...
Published: 12/12/17
Updated: 12/13/17
Editorial: Tax cuts aren’t worth harm to Tampa Bay

Editorial: Tax cuts aren’t worth harm to Tampa Bay

As congressional negotiators hammer out the details on an enormous, unnecessary tax cut, the potential negative impact on Tampa Bay and Florida is becoming clearer. The harmful consequences stretch far beyond adding more than $1.4 trillion to the fed...
Published: 12/12/17