By ORLANDO SENTINEL EDITORIAL BOARD ORLANDO SENTINEL | OCT 07, 2021 AT 11:47 AM
In a serious state governed by serious people, a couple of looming crises — like an unsustainable housing insurance market and dangerously understaffed prisons — would rank as top priorities.
It should already be clear we’re not talking about Florida, an unserious state where unserious leaders spend the bulk of their time entertaining the masses with press statements and tweets about mandatory vaccines, freedom, Big Tech, freedom, critical race theory, freedom, the border, freedom, socialists, freedom, etc., etc.
Here’s what they’re not tweeting about: Property insurance and prisons, two potential Category 5 disasters headed straight for Florida.
That’s because property insurance and prisons are soooo boring, and very unlikely to score many likes or retweets on Twitter. And neither of those issues will ever land a politician on Sean Hannity’s show. Nor would they make effective fundraising pitches.
That’s why you’re not hearing much about property insurance and prisons from the governor, the Cabinet or legislative leaders who decide what’s important and what’s not.
But here’s why they should care more:
We wrote an editorial in June praising lawmakers for finally cracking down on roofing insurance scams that were costing companies millions. But we said then that wasn’t enough, and it wasn’t.
The Insurance Journal reported in late February that some Florida carriers were seeking “rate increases ranging from more than 20% to nearly 40%,” blaming hurricanes, water damage claims and the roofing scams.
Higher rates and canceled policies are driving more homeowners to the state-ownedCitizens Property Insurance Corp., the so-called “last resort” for people who can’t otherwise get affordable homeowners coverage.
Florida spent years trying to wean homeowners off Citizens and back into the private market. But Citizens now expects to have more than 1 million policyholders next year, maybe as many as 1.3 million. That’s more than double the number of policies it held in June 2020, putting far too much of the property insurance burden on the state.
Citizens is picking up homeowners who are getting dropped by their insurance companies, companies like Gulfstream Property and Casualty and American Capital Assurance, which went out of business earlier this year.
Other companies are jacking up their rates, making an already unaffordable housing market even less attainable for Florida’s working-class families.
The website Florida Politics recently reported that the state insurance commissioner described the property insurance market as “dire” and warned of more rate hikes to come in a state that already has the third highest rates in the nation.
Florida’s lawmakers are obsessed with keeping taxes low, but seem to care little about the financial burden rising insurance rates create for families.
Florida’s prisons offer corrections officers a starting salary of about $16 an hour to do one of the most difficult jobs imaginable — guarding huge groups of potentially dangerous men and women.
The state has about 5,000 vacancies in its work force of some 18,000, with 400 more employees leaving every month. A single guard might have to oversee groups of 200 inmates. Overtime, much of it mandatory, is out of control. The staffing shortage has led to closing three prisons, along with smaller work camps.
We’re not necessarily averse to closing prisons or work camps if it’s done for the sake of efficiency or making the state’s justice system more equitable.
But closing facilities because of a staffing crisis isn’t a good reason.
The problem starts with the rotten pay, which isn’t much more than the minimum wage will be in Florida in a few years.
Prison officials want to raise the starting pay for a guard from about $33,000 a year to $41,000 annually. If Florida lawmakers can find enough money to bankroll untold millions in corporate tax breaks, they surely can look under the couch cushions and find a few bucks for state employees who could legitimately argue they have the hardest — and least appreciated — job in the state.
Prisons, property insurance, unemployment, affordable housing and mental health are on a longer list of problems that have festered in Florida because politicians spend far too much time performing for the masses.
Over the last few years they’ve spent countless hours debating over dreamed-up problems with elections, protests, social media and education, and followed up with concocted solutions that turn out to be unneeded or unconstitutional — or both.
Florida’s in desperate need of serious leaders who will take on serious problems, even if they don’t serve political ambitions or make for good tweets.