Florida Governor Wants Answers on Citizens’ Downsizing

By BRENT KALLESTAD | November 3, 2011

Gov. Rick Scott wants the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp. to recommend ways to shore up the troubled insurer.

Scott, who would prefer the insurer be sold to a private company, wants answers from the Citizens’ board by a Cabinet meeting Dec. 6.

“I expect them to come back with ideas of things they can do without the Legislature, things that we have to go to the Legislature with,” Scott said Tuesday. “We shouldn’t be sitting here just hoping every hurricane season that we’re not going to have a hurricane. Someday we’re going to have a hurricane.”

No hurricane has hit the state since Wilma in October 2005.

Despite going six years without a storm, property insurance rates have continued to soar in Florida and Citizens, designed as the insurer of last resort, has grown dramatically and is the state’s largest property insurer with nearly 1.5 million customers. A one-in-100-year storm or series of destructive hurricanes could leave the company insolvent and put Florida taxpayers on the hook for making up the difference.

Scott said he didn’t think most of the state’s insured are aware that they’d be assessed on their personal property and vehicle policies in the event Citizens couldn’t pay off.

“I don’t think that they have any idea that they are taking that risk of having an assessment,” Scott said. “All consumers should know that.”

The governor grilled Citizens’ President Scott Wallace about details of the company’s business plan and was clearly chagrined at what he learned.

“You would never organize your personal life like this,” Scott said. “We’ve got to fix this.”

The Citizens’ Board of Directors next meets Nov. 16 in Orlando.

“Outside of the Legislature there (are) things that Citizens can be doing on its own and I expect the board to come back and do those things,” Scott said.

Legislators in 2007 tried to protect the so-called insurer of last resort in Florida by clamping down on higher premiums, but that decision didn’t work. They passed another property insurance measure earlier this year designed to give insurers some slack. And the issue never goes away.

Scott said he believes the Legislature would be willing to will work on the issue again in the 2012 session, even in an election year.

“They know we can’t keep on doing what we’re doing on Citizens Insurance,” he said. “We’re very vulnerable as a state with Citizens.”

Citizens’ was created by the Florida Legislature in 2002 by the merger of two existing state-backed insurance pools.

It is now Florida’s largest insurer of homes, condos and businesses with a book of business. The nonprofit company has more than 900 employees at offices in Jacksonville, Tallahassee and Tampa is run by an eight-person board of governors appointed by the governor.

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