President Barack Obama plans to travel to Alabama today to survey the terrible damage from this week's deadly tornadoes, comfort families and promise federal help. That's how Americans respond following natural disasters: We offer compassion, send volunteers and share the financial pain through private insurance and government assistance. One way or another, the burden is spread.
In the South, the death toll from dozens of tornadoes passed 280 and keeps climbing. Neighborhoods have been leveled by winds far stronger than minimal hurricanes, and the costs to rebuild will be steep. Meanwhile, flooding along the Mississippi and Ohio rivers and their tributaries have forced residents in Missouri, Illinois and other Midwest states to flee their homes and businesses. Some damage will be covered by federal flood insurance, but many property owners will have to rely on government loans or other assistance to recover. It takes a mix of community spirit, private insurance and government help to put lives back together.
Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature tend to forget that calculus. Scott reportedly wanted to close down the state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp. as soon as possible and put more than 1.3 million policyholders at the mercy of private insurers, whose primary motivation is to make money. State senators counted Florida's blessings Thursday as they referred to the tornadoes — then railed against Citizens Property Insurance and the likelihood of large assessments on all sorts of insurance throughout the state to help cover damage claims after a major hurricane. In their fantasy, private insurers would cover every Florida home and business if the state would just let them raise premiums high enough and gouge property owners as much as they want. That is not a prescription for reviving the economy.
It is impossible to set insurance premiums high enough to cover all damages from every major tornado, flood or hurricane. There will be costs on the back end that cannot be covered up front. The victims of the tornadoes in the South and the floods in the Midwest will get help in some manner from taxpayers across the country. Floridians can count on similar assistance after the next big hurricane. Yet the message from the governor and the Legislature in Tallahassee is very different: Pay higher insurance premiums for less coverage before the storm, and don't expect anyone to share the costs to rebuild after the next big one.