Tallahassee politicians like to claim they are looking out for the average Floridian, and Gov. Rick Scott has made a central tenet of his 2014 legislative agenda to roll back the automobile registration fees that were raised in the middle of the recession. If Scott, House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz really want to help Florida families, they won't stop with just a $25 break on automobile registration fees. They should make a new year's resolution to do something more significant about the rising cost of living in this state.
Among the issues the governor and the Legislature should address in the new year:
Electric rates. The cost of keeping the lights on will rise in 2014 with increases already approved by the Public Service Commission, which continues to be stacked against the consumer. Duke Energy customers, whose typical bills will be the highest among the state's three largest investor-owned utilities, face the double whammy of paying for nuclear plants that will never be built or have been shut down. Yet lawmakers have refused to repeal the 2006 law that let Duke Energy charge taxpayers in advance for a Levy County nuclear project that will never produce electricity. Consumers are also on the hook for at least part of the cost of the botched repair job at Duke's closed Crystal River plant.
Lawmakers should also be thinking long-term about the state's energy needs. Florida now ranks behind even Delaware in the amount of solar energy being produced. Besides hurting families' pocketbooks, rising energy costs hurt the state's economic prospects.
Flood insurance. Two Tampa Bay Republican legislators, Sen. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg and Larry Ahern of Seminole, are pushing to create a private flood insurance market in the wake of indefensible premium increases through the National Flood Insurance Program that were triggered by the federal Biggert-Waters Act. But it remains to be seen whether a state solution would be a good deal for homeowners or just another easy buck for private insurers. State leaders should also be investigating the potential for a state-run flood insurance pool and pressing members of Congress to delay implementation of the federal law until a more affordable overhaul can be adopted. With Florida having the nation's largest number of flood insurance policies, state leaders should continue to demand help from Washington.
Property insurance. Scott and state lawmakers have been focused on reducing the size of the state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp. by steering policyholders into untested smaller insurers who could exponentially raise rates down the road. Scott warns of the risk of large assessments to Floridians beyond Citizens customers if a large hurricane exhausts the insurer's reserves. But Tallahassee continues to ignore the impact on family finances or the real estate market as premiums rise beyond what homeowners can reasonably pay. Citizens' rates are up 43 percent since 2009, the insurer has nearly $7 billion in reserves, and the risk of a financial catastrophe is too often overstated.
Health coverage. Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, continues to oppose accepting $51 billion in federal money over 10 years that would provide Medicaid coverage for more than 800,000 uninsured Floridians. Those uninsured residents make too much to qualify for Medicaid now and too little to qualify for federal health insurance subsidies. That means those uninsured patients show up in hospital emergency rooms for uncompensated care, and those costs are passed on to insured Floridians in higher premiums and to taxpayers.