Saturday, November 18, 2017

Editorial: Federal flood fix falls short


Washington is finally taking a second look at the ill-conceived Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act. A bipartisan plan announced this week would retroactively delay rate increases that took effect Oct. 1 for up to four years while federal officials conduct an affordability study. But Florida leaders should leave nothing to chance until Congress also addresses broader flaws in the law, including astronomical rates that may have little to do with flood risk but undermine property values. Florida should continue to explore its options.

Even in the best-case scenario, the proposed changes to Biggert-Waters won't necessarily fix the economic havoc Congress has wrought on thousands of Florida's families. Passed in 2012 before Hurricane Sandy, Biggert-Waters was billed as a path toward making the federal flood insurance program solvent after $18 billion in losses in Hurricane Katrina. Under the law, owners of homes built before federal flood maps existed would see their premium subsidies phased out over five years starting Oct. 1 — but the subsidies would be removed immediately for any property sold after July 1, 2012.

In theory, Biggert-Waters might have made sense. In implementation, it's been a disaster. As Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., accurately summed it up Tuesday: "There are more families … worried about the cost of flood insurance than are worried about floods."

The elimination of subsidies for new property owners has sent shock waves through the real estate market in Florida and Tampa Bay. Pinellas County has the most subsidized policies in the nation. Overnight, modest homes that can be miles from the coast have become virtually unsellable to anyone but cash buyers. Potential buyers of older homes in low-lying areas have been told flood insurance costs would increase as much as tenfold.

The proposed timeout on rate increases certainly would be better than nothing. But the bipartisan fix unveiled this week still doesn't address the red flag the Government Accountability Office waved in July. It told Congress that the Federal Emergency Management Agency didn't have the information — like elevation certificates — it needs to set rational rates.

Tallahassee should keep looking for alternatives. Two private insurance companies have announced they hope to start writing private flood insurance in the Tampa Bay market, something encouraged by Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty. But McCarty and state legislators should also keep exploring establishing a state-run flood insurance pool where all excess premiums could be dedicated to reserves, not private company profits.

Florida is in a far better position than most states to consider alternatives as it has long been a donor to the flood insurance program, with property owners having paid $4 in flood insurance premiums for every $1 in claims paid out.

A National Flood Insurance Program with rational rates remains the best option, and Congress should approve the delay in rate increases. But Florida should continue to consider how to fend for itself.


Editorial: Good for Tampa council member Frank Reddick to appeal for community help to solve Seminole Heights killings

As the sole black member of the Tampa City Council, Frank Reddick was moved Thursday to make a special appeal for help in solving four recent murders in the racially mixed neighborhood of Southeast Seminole Heights. "I’m pleading to my brothers. You ...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Editorial: It’s time to renew community’s commitment to Tampa Theatre

Editorial: It’s time to renew community’s commitment to Tampa Theatre

New attention to downtown Tampa as a place to live, work and play is transforming the area at a dizzying pace. Credit goes to recent projects, both public and private, such as the Tampa River Walk, new residential towers, a University of South Florid...
Published: 11/17/17
Editorial: Rays opening offer on stadium sounds too low

Editorial: Rays opening offer on stadium sounds too low

The Rays definitely like Ybor City, and Ybor City seems to like the Rays. So what could possibly come between this match made in baseball stadium heaven? Hundreds (and hundreds and hundreds) of millions of dollars. Rays owner Stu Sternberg told Times...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Editorial: Wage hike for contractors’ labor misguided

Editorial: Wage hike for contractors’ labor misguided

St. Petersburg City Council members are poised to raise the minimum wage for contractors who do business with the city, a well-intended but misguided ordinance that should be reconsidered. The hourly minimum wage undoubtedly needs to rise — for every...
Published: 11/16/17

Editorial: Make workplaces welcoming, not just free of harassment

A federal trial began last week in the sex discrimination case that a former firefighter lodged against the city of Tampa. Tanja Vidovic describes a locker-room culture at Tampa Fire Rescue that created a two-tier system — one for men, another for wo...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Editorial: Firing a critic of his handling of the sewer crisis is a bad early step in Kriseman’s new term

Editorial: Firing a critic of his handling of the sewer crisis is a bad early step in Kriseman’s new term

Barely a week after St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman promised to unite the city following a bitter and divisive campaign, his administration has fired an employee who dared to criticize him. It seems Kriseman’s own mantra of "moving St. Pete forwar...
Published: 11/15/17
Updated: 11/16/17
Editorial: USF’s billion-dollar moment

Editorial: USF’s billion-dollar moment

The University of South Florida recently surpassed its $1 billion fundraising goal, continuing a current trend of exceeding expectations. At 61 years old — barely middle age among higher education institutions — USF has grown up quickly. It now boast...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Editorial: Vets should not have to wait years for benefits

Editorial: Vets should not have to wait years for benefits

American military members hurt in service to their country should not have to wait a lifetime for the benefits they deserve. But that’s a reality of the disability process at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which hasn’t made payi...
Published: 11/14/17

Editorial: Deputies’ rescue reflects best in law enforcement

The bravery two Hillsborough County sheriff’s deputies showed a week ago is a credit to them and reflects the professionalism of the office.Deputies Benjamin Thompson and Trent Migues responded at dusk Nov. 11 after 82-year-old Leona Evans of Webster...
Updated: 11 hours ago

Another voice: An untrustworthy deal with Russia

President Donald Trump’s latest defense of Russian leader Vladimir Putin included — along with a bow to his denials of meddling in the U.S. election — an appeal to pragmatism. "Having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing,"...
Published: 11/13/17
Updated: 11/14/17