The Ledger (Lakeland, FL)
Scott, Crist Split on Approach to Insurance
By Jim Turner – The News Service of Florida
October 8, 2014

TALLAHASSEE – A hurricane hasn’t made landfall in Florida in nearly nine years, but that hasn’t kept property-insurance rates from increasing or becoming a bigger concern for homeowners.

As he seeks re-election, Republican Gov. Rick Scott has maintained a free market approach to the industry. That approach includes efforts to attract more private insurers to Florida, push thousands of policyholders out of Citizens Property Insurance Corp. and reduce what the state-backed insurer must cover.

Ever the populist, Democratic gubernatorial challenger and former governor Charlie Crist has said he will act to reverse rate increases that have occurred under Scott’s free-market watch.

The majority of the insurance industry backs Scott.

Since the start of 2013, Scott has received roughly $2 million in contributions from the property- and auto-insurance industry through his campaign and the “Let’s Get To Work” political committee that backs his re-election.

In the same time, Crist and a closely aligned political committee, Charlie Crist for Florida, have received about $75,000 from those with ties to the insurance industry.

University of South Florida political-science professor Susan MacManus, noting the anticipated low turnout in the statewide election, said insurance could be a deciding factor for many of the property owners who cast ballots.

The average annual premium for homeowners’ policies has grown from $1,544 to $1,933 under Scott.

Meanwhile, Citizens coverage has been reduced for many customers to just main buildings, leaving unprotected awnings, gazebos, tiki huts, and most carports and screened-in pool enclosures, which are more vulnerable to damage in a hurricane.

“Homeowners are very attuned to that, and homeowners tend to vote,” MacManus said.

According to findings in a recently released Sunshine State Survey, conducted by the University of South Florida and the A.C. Nielsen Company, property insurance is one of the top six “stressors” for homeowners in Florida, along with food and maintenance costs, health care, utility bills, and the potential of no longer being employed.

MacManus said the survey found that concerns about property insurance have risen since a prior survey in 2012.

“The choice could not be more clear,” Crist told reporters while announcing his insurance plan last month. “A governor who took on the insurance industry and lowered rates so families had more in their checking accounts and at the end of the month? Or a governor who let insurance companies raise rates – over 25 percent so the companies and his campaign have more in the bank?”

While governor, Crist, then a Republican, backed a temporary freeze on Citizens rates and later a 10 percent cap on annual rate increases. Scott spokesman Matt Moon pointed out that Crist’s effort to hold down rates on Citizens also increased the liability risk for all homeowners.