Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Florida's Public Policy Vacuum

(Originally published 5/4/10 on

Allow me to talk shop a little bit to set up my point.

My job in Florida is to promote free market reforms to the property insurance system that Charlie Crist largely socialized when he became governor in 2007. Without entering into specifics of his ill-conceived reforms, Crist basically imposed a "public option" type system of property insurance on Florida that essentially transferred massive liabilities from private property insurance companies to the state-run property insurance company. This means Florida taxpayers have assumed those massive liabilities.

Just like Obama's true motives were to drive health insurance companies out of business when he tried to impose a public option on the country's health insurance system, Charlie Crist's public option has driven away most of the state's large private insurance companies. Coverage by these has largely been replaced by the underfunded state-run insurer and small, untested, fly-by-night insurance companies most of which are sure to go bankrupt if even as much as a weak hurricane hits the state. In short, Florida is one hurricane away from either going bankrupt or facing the very real possibility of having tens of thousands of its storm-ravaged citizens not having their claims paid.

Think about that for one second: the state goes bankrupt and/or an entire region of the state can't recover from a storm because claims can't get paid, which eventually also bankrupts the state.

The good news is, the legislature is beginning to notice the importance of this issue, and there have been attempts by statesmen to address it (yes, some politicians are actually statesmen).
The bad news is, as usual, Crist.

Last year the Legislature overwhelmingly passed a bill that would have largely addressed Florida's insurance crisis. Among other things, it would have allowed companies to charge rates based on the free market and risk. Opponents demagogued it saying that it would drive up rates, obviously omitting the fact that it would lure more competitors into the market, spread the risk, and ensure solvency so people could actually get their claims paid after the storm. Crist's response: he vetoed it.

This year, a similar bill, albeit a weaker version of last year's, was moving through the legislative process. The bill was changed to address the concerns Crist had raised in last year's so-called "veto message." But as anyone in Florida's legislative process can attest, any "substantive" reasons Crist may cite in a veto message are mere excuses used to justify a veto done only to score cheap political points with the interest group or demographic du jour.

Crist acted like a grade school student who stuck his fingers in his ears and repeatedly yelled "rate incrase rate increase!" as others were trying to reason with him.

In short, there has been a complete lack of public policy gravitas in the governor's office since Jeb Bush's departure. For Crist, no serious policy issue is serious, no potential consequences are of consequence, and every official decision that has to be made must be weighed against the interests of his own political career. Anything that is bad for Charlie in the short-term must be treated as bad policy and must be rendered moot no matter how vital or beneficial it is to the state and its citizens in the long-term.

Issues unrelated to property insurance do not deviate from that narrative. For example, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 6, a teacher merit pay bill favored by many teachers, legislative leaders, Jeb Bush, and education reformers nationwide, but vociferously opposed by the teacher's unions. As the bill moved through the legislative process, Crist had explicitly indicated he would sign the bill through personal conversations with legislative leaders and even through public declarations by his official representatives at hearings where the bill was being debated.

Despite his stated support for the bill, Crist vetoed it after the loud minority opposition reached a fever pitch. Devoid of a core support base, Crist killed the bill hoping the teacher's union would fill the void Republicans across the state left when they abandoned him after years of throwing in with Democrats on issue after issue. He hedged his bets and figured the union would rescue his fledgling US Senate campaign. This morning I saw an ad paid for by the Florida Education Association (the state's teacher's union) thanking him for vetoing SB6.

This is the Florida of Charlie Crist's cyncism and opportunism, where an outright and proven lie in the form of a veto earns him in-kind paid media today, and another veto will plunge the state into an unprecedented financial catastrophe that will adversely impact every Floridian tomorrow when Crist is not around to deal with it. Both, however, are the result of Charlie Crist's desperate confusion about his role as governor as he continues in his schmaltzy dither to govern with his eye on the next office.