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Other Views from Those in the Know
Rep. Bill Hager
State Representative
Expect Big "Hurricane Tax" If Big Wind Blows

The countdown has begun and the start of the 2012 Atlantic Hurricane Season is around the corner. Just weeks ago the Florida Legislature ended its regularly scheduled state session, and while some important legislation which benefits the citizens of this great state passed, legislation to address the much needed reform of Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund failed.

Based on its own analysis, the Cat Fund would have been unable to pay its claims in three of the past four years. Even with “hurricane tax” assessments levied on the insurance policies of all Floridians, as of October 2011 the fund faced a potential $3.2 billion shortfall. In the wake of the next major storm or series of storms, this shortfall has the potential to dramatically impact the state and analytical data suggests that if the Cat Fund has a shortfall of 20 percent after a storm, a significant number of Florida insurers would be insolvent or otherwise unable to continue in business.

Working with Senator J.D. Alexander (R-Lakes Wales), we sponsored House Bill 833 and Senate Bill 1372, which were based on a proposal by the Cat Fund’s Chief Operating Officer Jack Nicholson. Supported by consumer, taxpayer, environmental, nonprofit and business groups as well as Floridians just like you, the bills would have reduced the risk associated with annual “hurricane tax” assessments which could last as long as 30 years and will be levied on all homeowner, business and automobile policyholders.  Additionally, the legislation aimed to begin the process of “right sizing” the Cat Fund to ensure the fund can fully pay its obligations in the future, and would have helped foster a more stable property insurance market that encourages strong companies to return to our state and compete for our business.

While other legislative leaders including Senators Alan Hays (R-Umatilla) and Garrett Richter (R-Naples) supported the bills, not all of Florida’s elected officials chose to address this very serious problem. Opponents of the legislation argued HB 833 and SB 1372 would have caused rates to go up, however, in reality, the bond markets have already created the rate impact and rates may very well go up without the legislation in place.

As an elected official, my objective is not to create a situation that negatively affects my constituents or any other Floridians. In fact, I am simply working to correct a situation that has been wrong for many years. The Cat Fund knowingly fails to collect enough premiums in advance, subsidizing the few at the expense of the many by relying on taxpayer backed bonds to pay their claims. This is unfair and there are dire consequences associated with allowing the fund to continue along this current path.

While we have been storm-free for the past six years, should a storm hit Florida this hurricane season, the fund’s current structure as well as the structure of the overextended Citizens Property Insurance Corp. could very well be collectively responsible for the largest tax increase in Florida’s history.   Absent changes in the way these state insurers operate, the reality is that these hurricane taxes are inevitable and likely to be substantially worse than if gradual adjustments are made to the system.

At this point we are left to wait and hope we are spared another year. Hopefully our good luck has not run out and the Florida Legislature will have another opportunity to rectify the current situation during the 2013 state legislative session. Until then, I encourage you to continue following the developments regarding the Cat Fund and urge you to support future legislation which will make the necessary changes to protect all Floridians.

Rep. Bill Hager, R-Boca Raton, represents District 87 in the Florida House of Representatives.

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by Dr. Radut.