Crist: 'Stay in Florida because help is on the way'

Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel

By Linda Kleindienst
Posted April 23, 2007

TALLAHASSEE -- From Jupiter to Hollywood, property taxes and homeowner insurance rates have people riled.

When given the opportunity to pose a question to Gov. Charlie Crist, South Florida Sun-Sentinel readers overwhelmingly focused on the double-edged sword of Florida's housing crisis, demanding to know what the governor and Legislature plan to do to make sure homes remain affordable.

In agreeing to answer reader questions, Crist said he understands the frustration. He led the drive for homeowner insurance reforms during a January emergency session of the Legislature and is pushing lawmakers now to give the state's homeowners some tax relief. But he concedes the battle to bring down rates has only just begun.

"Stay in Florida because help is on the way," Crist said in response to a Dania Beach woman's lament that she may have to leave Florida to find an affordable place to live. "It will be in the form of property insurance and property tax reductions. We're just at the very beginning of chopping down these twin towers of pocketbook issues that are ... crushing [Floridians] financially."

To the Boca Raton father of a newborn girl worried about his homeowner insurance doubling at the same time he had to start paying $1,000 a month for childcare, Crist said the Legislature's work three months ago has only started to have an effect on the market rates. Key among the reforms, which Crist describes as "a rolling thunder that's coming in," is the decision to allow Citizens Property Insurance Corp., once the insurer of last resort, to become competitive with private companies.

"The insurance industry would always threaten us by saying `If you don't let us raise our rates, we'll leave the state.' Obviously, completely lacking in any sense of compassion," Crist said. "Today, if they make that threat, we say `Bye, bye.' We don't need you here anymore because we know we have a solvent, well-funded company that will not leave our people and ... can actually now compete."

Here are some of the questions readers submitted and Crist's answers.

Property taxes

Q Why would we treat our financial situation in Florida government any different than what we do with our own household? If I do not have enough money to purchase what I need or want ... I cut back spending in other areas and prioritize the essentials. This basic concept needs to apply with government spending as well. Let's not raise taxes, nor increase Homestead Exemption or even the Save Our Homes.

-- Todd McDaniel, Coconut Creek

A. State government is required to do that by the constitution of Florida, but the concern I have is that local governments need to have a little more financial discipline, just like Florida families. I also believe we need to reduce property taxes, and I think we need to do it significantly, and I'm confident the Legislature will present a plan to the voters of Florida to do just that.

Q Do you approve a sales tax increase to 8.5 percent to remove property taxes? I think it is very unfair to the poor and middle class.

-- Sharyn Parker, Lauderhill

A. I'm not throwing water on any idea. It is the job of the Legislature, along with me, to come up with ideas as to how to address this problem. Within the next couple of weeks, we will have a plan to put before the people of Florida ... to give them significant relief.

Property Insurance

Q I just received my new homeowners insurance bill and it doubled. My wife and I are new parents and are keeping our child in daycare for almost $1,000 a month. What happened to our savings? I do not want to sell my house and move from the state. What are we supposed to do?

-- Steven Platkin, Boca Raton

A. What the Legislature did in January gave us the great first start to turning around what has been a practice for years around here. It always had been the mindset that in order to improve the insurance market for Floridians you had to let the companies raise their rates so more would come here. Well, thank goodness the Legislature turned that debate on its head and said, no more, not in Florida, our people's rates have gone through the roof, that's not an option for us. I'm trying to do everything I can to strengthen what is the people's insurance company [Citizens].

Q Why don't you just tell insurance companies that write homeowners [policies] that they cannot sell other insurance such as auto unless they write homeowners insurance in Florida? Maybe the Geico Gecko could handle homeowners.

-- Mitchell Cohen, Jupiter

A. The cherry picking is an issue that concerns me, and it concerned me during the campaign. The cautionary note I would send here is there are companies who may have never written property insurance and only wrote auto coverage. I'm not talking about them. I don't think it's fair to make them do business they've never done before. But if they've done all lines, they've done property, they've done auto, they ought to offer whatever they offer in other states to Floridians. Why not?

Affordable housing

Q I am 27 years of age, work a 40 hour/week job, college educated and unmarried without children and somehow I am unable to buy a home. I don't necessarily want to be married any time soon. However, it seems I might have to for the second income to buy a house. Will I have to relocate in order to afford housing?

-- Melissa Lawres, Dania Beach

A. We're going to make housing affordable by pushing down the property insurance you have to pay for that home and continue to push down the property taxes you have to pay. So, on two enormous fronts, the affordability of a home will expand greatly in our state.