Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Webinar and US PIRG Study: Who pays for roads?


For Immediate Release
May 5th, 2015


Kat Woodruff
National Field Director
(562) 225-4608

Susan McGrath
Executive Director, FCAN

New Report Finds Drivers Pay Less Than Half the Cost of Roads

Webinar to Explain Why Raising Gas Taxes Won’t Necessarily Solve Problems

As Congress struggles to renew the federal transportation law, a new report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group and Frontier Group finds that drivers currently pay less than half the total cost of roads, and argues that while increasing gas taxes could fill the shortfall, it would leave other problems unaddressed.
The new report, “Who Pays for Roads? How the ‘Users Pays’ Myth Gets in the Way of Solutions to America’s Transportation Problems” exposes the widening gap between how Floridians and others think we pay for transportation – through gas taxes and other fees – and how we actually do. The authors of the report will cohost a live webinar today at 1pm [EST] to explain the report findings and answer questions (click here to register and attend).

Florida Consumer Action Network (FCAN) is co-releasing the report because we, like many Floridians have spent too much time stuck in traffic trying to get somewhere in our metro areas or drive from one city to another. A majority of Floridians have voted to spend more on transportation, especially alternatives, but no solutions are moving forward.

The new report comes with just a month left before expiration of the federal transportation act, and with the federal Highway Trust Fund on the brink of insolvency. Revenues from gas taxes and other user fees this year are expected to come up $16 billion short of the level needed to maintain current federal transportation spending, leading to the need for urgent congressional action.

“Congress is stuck in an endless loop,” said Tom Walker, FCAN president. “Either Congress will have to raise gas taxes to the high levels that would be needed to fully pay for the costs of highways or it will have to admit that the ‘users pay’ system no longer exists and needs to be reformed.”

“Congress faces important choices about transportation,” Walker continued. “Playing make believe about where our transportation dollars come from shouldn’t be an option.”

The new report pulls back the veil on the “users pay” myth, finding that:

· Gas taxes and other fees paid by drivers now cover less than half of road construction and maintenance costs nationally – down from more than 70 percent in the 1960s – with the balance coming chiefly from income, sales and property taxes and other levies on general taxpayers.

· General taxpayers at all levels of government now subsidize highway construction and maintenance to the tune of $69 billion per year – an amount exceeding the expenditure of general tax funds to support transit, bicycling, walking and passenger rail combined.

· Regardless of how much they drive, the average American household bears an annual financial burden of more than $1,100 in taxes and indirect costs from driving – over and above any gas taxes or other fees they pay that are connected with driving.

“The ‘users pay’ myth is deeply ingrained in U.S. transportation policy, shaping how billions of dollars in transportation funds are raised and spent each year,” said Tony Dutzik, co-author of the report and Senior Analyst at Frontier Group, a non-profit think tank. “More and more, though, all of us are bearing the cost of transportation in our tax bills, regardless of how much we drive.”

State and federal policies often give priority to spending on highways based on the assumption that drivers pay the cost of roads through gas taxes and user fees. The report argues that, with the nation’s transportation needs changing and general taxpayers bearing an ever-greater share of the cost of transportation, America should instead invest transportation dollars in projects that are likely to deliver the greatest benefits.

Ordinary Americans agree. Nearly two-thirds of Americans believe it is appropriate to use gasoline tax revenue to support public transportation, according to a national study released last week by researchers at the Norman Mineta Transportation Institute. Other recent opinion polls suggest that Americans believe that the nation should give greater priority to transit, bicycling and walking in transportation spending.
The report can be read at this link.

# # #
U.S. PIRG is a consumer group that stands up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security, or our right to fully participate in our democratic society. The Florida Consumer Action Network is a grassroots organization which empowers citizens to influence public policy by organizing and educating in areas where consumer voices are underrepresented.

Friday, August 01, 2014

FCAN Welcomes Olivia Babis to our staff


Olivia Babis started work at FCAN last month and I wanted to let you know a little about her and what she is working on. I first met Liv a few years ago when we staged a mock funeral at Rep. Ross’ office during Halloween. Despite the heat, she was in full make-up and gave a great speech about how Ross’ anti-Obamacare positions would harm Floridians. There’s a pic at the bottom of FCAN’s home page.


Liv joins us as our Community Organizer, currently focusing on transit, Medicaid Expansion, and children’s health care – a portfolio that is likely to expand. There’s a lot of work to do.

Fortunately, Liv comes to us as an experienced organizer and hit the ground running. She jumped into our campaign to bring sustainable transportation alternatives to Tampa Bay. You can see in the pic below, she appeared with Rep. Mark Danish at a rally to criticize Gov. Scott for rejecting high speed rail money that cost Florida over $2 billion and thousands of jobs.


So, Florida get ready to rumble! There’s a new organizer in town and that spells trouble for those advancing the agenda of greed and injustice. Drop Olivia a line at Olivia@fcan.org

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Citizen Hearing For Clean Energy Solutions

The Sunshine State Clean Energy Coalition

Invites You to Join the Conversation at the

Citizens’ Hearing

For Clean Energy Solutions

July 2, 2014
7:00 p.m.
freeFall Theatre
6099 Central Avenue
St. Petersburg, FL 33710

RSVP here

Fed up with the Public Service Commission dismissing the words “public” and “service”?

Let’s take back Florida’s energy future.

We demand more energy savings!

In this year’s Florida Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act proceeding, regulators at the Florida Public Service Commission will decide for the next ten years how much energy Florida’s big power companies will save, and how much solar power they will offer their customers. But the PSC refuses to hear from the public at its “public” hearing on saving energy. Specifically, the Commission Chair stated, “Given the technical nature of this goal-setting procedure and no legislative directive to take public testimony, I do not find it necessary to hold a public hearing.” As a result, the Sunshine State Clean Energy Coalition will hold our own public hearing and help individuals submit comments calling on the PSC to enforce much higher goals for Florida’s big power companies to save energy.

Energy efficiency is the most affordable and least risky way for Florida’s energy needs. We could literally avoid the need for new power plants simply by using less energy and using energy more efficiently, while protecting clean air, clean water and limiting climate disrupting carbon pollution at the same time.

Join us July 2 and spread the word!

Make Florida Truly a Sunshine State!

More than twenty business, faith, labor, consumer, public health and environmental groups have formed the new Sunshine State Clean Energy Coalition to advocate for Florida’s largest utility companies to invest in clean, local solar energy. We are calling on Duke Energy to invest in solar power to boost Florida’s economy, keep energy dollars in state, and bring clean air to communities.

The Sunshine State Clean Energy Coalition includes:
  • All Florida Management
  • Awake Pinellas
  • Brilliant Harvest
  • Clean Water Action
  • Democratic Environmental Caucus of Florida
  • Earthjustice
  • Egg Geothermal
  • Environment Florida
  • Florida Consumer Action Network
  • Florida Public Interest Research Group
  • Green Energy Living Systems
  • Greenpeace
  • Gulf Restoration Network
  • Hernando County Democratic Executive Committee
  • Organizing for Action
  • Pear Energy
  • Physicians for Social Responsibility
  • Progress Florida
  • Sierra Club
  • SIEU Florida Public Services Union
  • Solar Energy Management
  • Solar Source
  • Solar Trek
  • Sojourner Truth Center
  • Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
  • Sunshine State Interfaith Power & Light

Florida is a vibrant state with unlimited potential to be a clean energy leader, especially through solar. But dirty, expensive and obsolete coal-fired plants like Duke Energy’s Crystal River plant are holding us back.

Mother and child The Crystal River Coal Plant causes mercury pollution, makes our children sick, and generates carbon emissions that contribute to climate change. The Sunshine State Clean Energy Coalition, an alliance of business, health and community groups, is launching a petition drive calling on Duke to move beyond coal and toward renewable energy such as solar and energy efficiency.

Tell Duke Energy to shut down its dirty Crystal River plant and move toward clean energy alternatives.

In addition to stopping pollution, clean energy is also good for ratepayers and the economy.   Dollar for dollar, clean energy solutions create more jobs than coal.  Further, the cost of coal is going up, while the price of solar power and energy savings programs keeps going down. Duke Energy can give consumers a break by investing in energy efficiency, which saves consumers money.

Climate Action It's Our Obligation




Please click here to sign the petition



The time for coal power is past. Floridians know that the Sunshine State has some of the world’s best solar power potential, and it’s time for Duke Energy to listen and start producing clean energy.

Thanks to the Sierra Club’s Sunshine State Clean Energy Coalition for this content.

Monday, May 05, 2014

We Moved!


FCAN relocated to a new office in St. Petersburg in the Grand Central District.

3110 1st Ave N Suite M
St Petersburg, FL 33713

Our phone number is still 813-877-6712 and emails all remain the same. However, we will soon have a 727 phone number as well.

Why did we move?  FCAN joined the Fair Share Alliance and we wanted to share office space with our new partners, Environment Florida and, Florida PIRG. This saves money for all the groups. Besides, we have a clean, bright new space with plenty of room in a very cool area of St Pete.  And there’s lots of political action in Pinellas County that we want to be more a part of. At last count, FCAN has more members in Pinellas than any other county.

More news, we expect to expand our field canvassing efforts later this summer, also a part of our work with the Fair Share Alliance.

Monday, September 30, 2013

What the government shutdown could mean

The House of Representatives will vote for the 43rd time to repeal the Affordable Care Act. With that vote, the Republicans will be shutting down the government. Cowing to Senator Ted Cruz and the Tea Party, Speaker Boehner is including a measure that repeals the entire law for a year and repeals the medical device tax days before millions of Americans will go to the new marketplaces to choose a health plan that works for them. It is shameful that the House is holding our economy hostage in order to give power back to insurance companies.  #EnoughAlready

The House of Representatives is manufacturing a crisis to shutdown the government in order to give power back to insurance companies.

  • Just like they did time and again in 2011 and 2012, Republicans are once again manufacturing a crisis and threatening to take down our country’s economy.
  • Republicans need to stop sabotaging our economy to satisfy their obsession with slashing Medicare and Social Security, and gutting Obamacare.  The American people want their leaders to focus on creating jobs and strengthening the economy.
  • A one year repeal of the Affordable Care Act gives power back to insurance companies, allowing them to deny coverage because of a pre-existing condition like asthma or cancer, find any excuse to drop coverage, put lifetime caps back on care and hike premiums without any oversight.

A one year delay is repeal by another name and will hurt middle class families. The House will take away the benefits and protections millions of Americans already receive from the Affordable Care Act.

  • Risking a government shutdown might be good political theater for some in Washington, but it has real consequences for middle class families.
  • The House measure would take away benefits from 100 million Americans receiving benefits and protections from Obamacare, including the:
    1. 3.1 million young adults who have coverage because they can stay on their parents’ coverage;
    2. More than 6 million seniors who can pay would pay more for prescription drugs;
    3. 17 million children with a pre-existing condition would be at risk of not getting health coverage;
    4. 77.8 million people who received a refund last year because Obamacare requires insurers spend your premium dollars on your care, not CEO bonuses or profits;
    5. 71 million Americans with private insurance gained preventive service coverage with no co-pays or deductibles, including 27 million women.

A one year repeal means higher premiums, more left without insurance and higher deficits.

  • On October 1, Americans without insurance will be able to enroll in health insurance Marketplaces, where nearly 6 in 10 uninsured Americans could get coverage for $100 a month or less.
  • If the law were delayed for one year, 14 million more people would be left without insurance next year.
  • Delay would increase premiums since fewer people would have insurance and there would be no access to premium tax credits to make insurance more affordable.
  • If only the provision requiring people to have insurance were delayed for a year, premiums in the nongroup market could rise as much as 27 percent.
  • The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that repealing the Affordable Care Act would increase the deficit by $24 billion in fiscal 2014.

It’s time to move on. Obamacare is the law of the land. The House should listen to their constituents who oppose repealing the law and want our leaders to work together to implement and improve it.

  • The reckless Republican strategy to shutdown the government because of Obamacare only gets 19 percent support. This is the fourth poll in the last few weeks showing that Americans strongly reject the Republican’s strategy.
  • Americans know who is at fault if the government shuts down. 51% of the American people would blame Republicans for shutting down the government.
  • It is time to move on. The Affordable Care Act is the law of the land. It passed the House. It passed the Senate. The Supreme Court upheld it and President Obama won re-election against a candidate who promised to repeal it.

What a Shutdown Means

Once again, Republicans have manufactured another crisis, shutting down our government because they didn’t get to stop Americans from gaining affordable health care coverage. The American people are sick and tired of this.  80% of the American people believe it’s just not right to threaten a shutdown during budget negotiations.

What it means:

  • $2 billion bill for the American people.  If Republicans shut down the government for the same amount of time as in 1995 and 1996, it would cost the American people more than $2 billion.  [The Washington Post, 9/23/2013
  • More than 2 million military service members may have their pay delayed.  If the government shuts down for more than 10 days, more than 2 million military service members may see their pay delayed.  [Military.com, 9/20/13; Huffington Post, 6/19/13; DoD]
  • More than 737,000 civilian military personnel may have their pay delayed. If the government shuts down, the Department of Defense estimates that half of the civilian workforce would be furloughed without pay and the other half would have to work for delayed pay. [Military.com, 9/20/13; Huffington Post, 6/19/13; DoD
  • The nutritional support for 8.6 million pregnant women, recent mothers, and young children is at risk.  According to the Department of Agriculture’s plans in the case of a government shutdown, in the event of a shutdown, there are no additional federal funds to support the Special Supplemental Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)’s clinical services, food benefits, and administrative costs.  State funds and contingency funds would not be enough to cover the entire month of October, putting the nutritional support for 8.6 million pregnant women, recent mothers, and their children at risk.  [USDA; USDA, Food and Nutritional Services]
  • 401 national parks will be closed. During a shutdown, “[a]ll the national parks will close.” Other attractions like the Smithsonian Institution and the National Zoo will also close.” [Christian Science Monitor, 9/25/2013; House Appropriations Committee, 9/2013; Department of Interior]
  • Nearly 6 million small businesses could see their financial support delayed.  In FY2012, the SBA’s flagship 7(a) and 504 loans programs approved 53,847 applications and supported 571,383 jobs, for an average of just over 1,000 applications per week. A shut down would put a stop to this critical source of small business credit until the government resumes operation. [Small Business Administration FY14 Budget Justification; SBA]
  • More than 800,000 federal employees may be furloughed without pay.   During a government shutdown, more than 800,000 federal employees around the country could be furloughed without pay.  [Washington Post, 9/23/13; Think Progress, 9/24/2013]
  • Veterans benefits may be delayed.   During a shutdown, new veterans’ educational, compensation and pension benefits processing could be delayed. During the 1995-96 shutdowns, more than 400,000 veterans saw their disability benefits and pension claims delayed, while educational benefits were delayed for 170,000 veterans. [JEC; Army Times, 2/3/11; CNN, 1/4/96; VA]
  • Americans may have their Social Security checks delayed.   Although checks for current Social Security benefits would still go out during a shutdown, applications for new benefits would be delayed and services for seniors could be significantly curtailed. As a result of furloughs and service cuts during the last shutdown, 112,000 claims for Social Security and disability benefits were not be taken, 212,000 applications for Social Security Numbers were not taken, and 800,000 callers were denied service on the Social Security Administration’s 800 number.  [BPC; SSA History; SAA, 2012]

    Monday, April 15, 2013

    Chained CPI–Don’t Cut Social Security


    FCAN has fought many battles to keep Social Security strong for Floridians and it looks like we’re not done yet. Many seniors rely on Social Security as their only income.  Our friends at Strengthen Social Security have published a fact sheet on the Chained CPI Social Security Cut currently being proposed in Washington.

    Their main points:

    Some politicians in Washington are preparing to cut your Social Security COLA for good – even after two years without a cost of living adjustment. This COLA cut has an obscure name – the
    chained CPI – but it would do real damage by changing the formula used to calculate the COLA. The important thing to know is that this change would cut the benefits of all beneficiaries, including current retirees, disabled workers, and others – even after politicians promised repeatedly that any changes to Social Security would not affect current beneficiaries. The COLA cut is a real threat to the financial security of every American who does currently or will rely on Social Security.

    The average earner retiring at age 65 would get a $658 cut each year at age 75, and a $1,147 cut by age 85. By age 95, when Social Security benefits are typically needed most, that person faces a
    staggering 9.2 percent cut. What is far more severe is the cumulative effect of the COLA cut as it compounds over time. The average earner retiring at age 65 would get a cumulative cut of $4,642 at age 75, $13,921 at age 85, and $28,015 at age 95.


    `Source: Social Security Administration


    Stop The Social Security Cuts TODAY!

    Call your Senators and Representatives today and let them know they should increase Social Security, not cut it.

    Senator Bill Nelson     202-224-5274

    Senator Marco Rubio  202-224-3041

    Look up your Representative or call the House switchboard at

    (202) 224-3121

    Tuesday, March 19, 2013

    FCAN Letter on Ticketmaster Monopoly


    Florida House Subcommittee on Business & Professional Regulation

    On behalf of Florida consumers, FCAN implores you to oppose HB 1353, blatantly anti-consumer legislation supported by Ticketmaster and its industry partners in order to gain an even greater monopoly in the ticket industry.

    HB 1353 seeks to ensure ticket sellers can use any ticketing method – including restricted tickets that limit or restrict a consumer’s ability to give away or resell their ticket. It also defines an admission ticket as a revocable license which “may be revoked at any time, with or without cause, by the ticket issuer.”

    With this law behind them, ticket sellers will be legally authorized to sell restricted tickets for every seat to every show and only allow consumers to transfer tickets in the manner that ticket sellers choose.

    This is a battle between consumers and big ticket sellers like Ticketmaster. Consumers want ownership of the tickets they buy and choice in the marketplace. Ticketmaster and its industry partners want to eliminate secondary market competition and create greater monopolies in the event ticket industry.

    I urge you to stand with consumers and support ownership rights and a free market in Florida by opposing HB 1353.


    Bill Newton, Executive Director

    Wednesday, March 06, 2013

    FCAN Analysis of S 1770 the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee Insurance Bill

    Overall, this bill reflects the free market ideology of Chairman Simmons and to some extent the conservative Republican majority. Not everyone agrees. The idea is to raise rates in Citizens to help private companies that already benefit from subsidized reinsurance and dumping high risk customers. Citizens rates would be raises by S 1770 without regard to the impact on homeowners, but for the benefit of mostly out of state insurance companies. Here are the specifics that FCAN opposes or supports.
    SUPPORT: Subjects Citizens Property Insurance Corporation to bad faith claims. FCAN: While Senators may do this for the wrong reasons (to make Citizens equal to private insurers) the best reason for doing this is so Citizens will have to meet its obligations to its customers.
    OPPOSE : Requires the Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR) to calculate and publish an annual property insurance inflation factor. FCAN: Inflation has little effect on insurance costs. Insurance rates are based on risk.
    SUPPORT: Allows insurance companies to include in their rate filing reinsurance that is purchased to cover potential shortfalls in the FHCF. FCAN supports this only if it is demonstrated that there really is a shortfall. This could be exploited by companies using affiliated or captive reinsurers to inflate profits.
    SUPPORT: Requires the Florida Commission on Hurricane Loss Projection Methodology review the accuracy of hurricane models used to establish wind mitigation discounts. FCAN: To the extent that these models work, which is doubtful, FCAN hopes they will justify more mitigation, which is badly needed.
    SUPPORT: Requires the OIR to hold a public hearing for a rate filing when the filing exceeds 15 percent in territories where there is not a reasonable degree of competition. FCAN: Hearings are good, but the threshold should be lower.
    OPPOSE: Allows insurers to use consent to rate for up to 10 percent of commercial policies enforce and up to 5 percent for personal policies enforce in territories where the office determines there is not a reasonable degree of competition.
    FCAN: This will be used to get customers to stay with a higher priced brand name even if the price is not justified. This preys upon consumers who do not know what is in their policy or what it should cost, and want to trust a brand name they see advertised on TV.
    OPPOSE: Reduces the maximum Citizens’ policy limit from $2 million to $600,000. FCAN: This forces these more lucrative policies into private companies to the detriment of Citizens policyholders. Once again, the private companies "cherry pick" the best leaving us the rest.
    SUPPORT: Prohibits Citizens from covering structures commencing construction after July 1, 2013, that are seaward of the coastal construction control line, unless built to code-plus. FCAN: This should help, but we should also simply avoid building in some areas, especially barrier islands.
    OPPOSE: Requires Citizens disclose potential surcharge and assessment liabilities with each renewal notice. FCAN: This is a waste of good money since nobody really knows what this might be, it changes all the time, and it is really designed to scare people.
    OPPOSE: Requires Citizens rates must be actuarially sound, include an appropriate risk load factor and not compete with the private market. A noncompetitive rate is defined as the highest rate among the top 20 insurers writing in a given territory but where OIR sees no competitive market exists, rates must be actuarially sound.
    FCAN: This would need a definition of what "acturially sound" means. Your actuary might give a different answer from mine.
    Secondly, Top 20 rates will be a disaster for many coastal areas. It would allow private companies to raise rates as much as they want without fear of losing customers to a more efficient Citizens. Citizens created competition where there was none. Even though Citizens is stuck with the highest risk customers, and we all know government couldn't possibly run a business, somehow Citizens is making money. Private companies say they can't compete, despite generous subsidies.
    There really aren't 20 competitive insurance companies in Florida. There are 5 or 6 large competitive companies and the rest don't compare. These few companies don't really compete, which is one of the reasons they are regulated.
    Citizens already has considerable disadvantages compared to private companies, so there is no reason to increase the burden paid by their customers. The effect would be, in part, to further enhance Citizens "profits", adding to their surplus at a rate that is not justified by the risk.
    OPPOSE: Requires all new policies, non-homestead non-renter occupied properties, homes with a replacement cost over $300,000 and nonresidential commercial policies be placed at the top 20 rate. FCAN: same reasons as stated above.
    OPPOSE: Applies the glide path percentage by territory and not policy. FCAN: the Glide Path, agreed to by all parties, is to make sure no one's rates increase by more than 10% a year, especially when times are tough and families have a difficult time even paying mortgages, let alone skyrocketing insurance premiums.
    SUPPORT: Allows an increase of 3 percent for Citizens to purchase additional reinsurance and decreases by 3 percent (1 percent per account) the Citizens policy surcharge. FCAN: Citizens needs additional reinsurance to spread risk outside Florida, but the rate increase should be kept nearer 1% than 3%.
    SUPPORT: Citizens Board must recommend to the Legislature a process in which policyholders with documented financial needs can receive some rate relief.
    There are some good things in this bill, but some repairs are needed before it moved ahead.

    Thursday, February 28, 2013

    FCAN Joins Stronger Safer Florida Coalition

    You might think it strange to see FCAN joining the Chamber and AIF on anything. But sometimes we agree, and we are also joining some of our environmental allies in this coalition. On this issue I think the best interest of consumers is spreading the hurricane risk outside of the state through the reinsurance mechanism. However, I do not support rate increases above 3% and my hope is that any increase resulting from buying more private reinsurance would be more like 1%.  Right now, reinsurance prices seem low, with plenty of capacity. That should be a good thing for Florida consumers and we should take advantage.  The press release is below. – Bill Newton, FCAN Executive Director

    Statewide Business, Consumer and Conservation Groups Committed to Making a Stronger Safer Florida

    ~Coalition Launches to Support Needed Reform of Citizens and the Cat Fund~

    Tallahassee, Fla. – A collection of statewide business, consumer and conservation groups today announced the formation of the Stronger Safer Florida coalition. The nonpartisan coalition is comprised of a wide range of groups, and has formed in an effort to support state legislation that will reform Citizens Property Insurance Corp. and the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund. The diverse membership reflects broad support for changes to the state-run insurance entities, which reports indicate do not insure the majority of Floridians, but due to their statutory power to levy assessments do tax them all in event of a major hurricane catastrophe.

    For years, many of these groups have called on the Florida Legislature to make needed changes to Citizens and the Cat Fund in order to return Florida’s property insurance market back to a healthy state. Additionally, members of the Stronger Safer Florida coalition believe reform of Citizens and the Cat Fund are critical to better protecting all Floridians including consumers, businesses, charitable organizations, religious institutions and local government entities, as well as shielding environmentally sensitive areas throughout the state.

    “We are pleased to join together with the other groups of Stronger Safer Florida in an effort to better protect our members and the interests of all Floridians,” said Thomas C. Feeney, III, President and Chief Executive Officer, Associated Industries of Florida. “When the Florida Legislature convenes next week for the 2013 state legislative session, it is imperative our elected leaders recognize the importance of implementing necessary and needed changes to Citizens Property Insurance Corp. and the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund. Both of these underfunded state-backed programs place an unreasonable financial burden on the backs of the majority of Floridians, and there is no better time, or greater need, for reform than now.”

    Today, the Stronger Safer Florida Coalition consists of 14 member and allied organizations, including Associated Industries of Florida, Florida Chamber of Commerce, Florida Consumer Action Network, Florida TaxWatch, the R Street Institute, 1,000 Friends of Florida, Audubon of Florida, CERES, Florida Coastal and Oceans Coalition, Florida Wildlife Federation, Sea Turtle Conservancy, Surfrider Foundation, The Nature Conservancy and James Madison Institute. Additionally, there are various field experts who also support the coalition’s efforts.

    A number of these groups have been instrumental in pre-legislative session meetings, providing requested input to leadership of the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee and by testifying at meetings. In addition, these groups are constantly working to educate the general public about the problems related to the structure of the current system.

    “Without the appropriate changes to Citizens Property Insurance Corp. and the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund, Florida consumers and the financial security of our state are at risk,” said Bill Newton, Executive Director, Florida Consumer Action Network. “We appreciate the opportunity to be part of Stronger Safer Florida as this coalition provides our organization with another platform to share our position on responsibly spreading hurricane risk outside of the state, the importance of mitigation and the need to pass thoughtful legislation that has a minimal impact on rates.”

    In the coming weeks, the Stronger Safer Florida Coalition will be launching an informative website with background information on the need for property insurance reform in the State of Florida. The group encourages the 77 percent of Floridians who are not insured by Citizens to join them in their efforts this upcoming legislative session.

    “For years the Florida Wildlife Federation has supported reform of Citizens Property Insurance Corp. and the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund,” said Manley Fuller, President, Florida Wildlife Federation. “On behalf of our members as well as the many conservation groups that support Stronger Safer Florida, we believe this nonpartisan coalition is representative of the majority of Floridians and hope the majority will consider assisting us in our efforts. Not only will returning Citizens back to the insurer of last resort and ‘right-sizing’ the Cat Fund better protect all Floridians from a potential financial nightmare, but these changes will positively impact Florida’s environment by better protecting our hurricane-prone state’s undeveloped barrier islands and wetlands that offer important environmental benefits and weather related safeguards.”

    If you are interested in receiving further information or would like to be added to our mailing list, please email strongersaferflorida@gmail.com.

    Friday, February 08, 2013

    FCAN Analysis of the proposed Senate Insurance Committee bill

    The Florida Senate Insurance Committee released a draft of a proposed committee homeowner’s insurance bill. This is a bill that would be sponsored by the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee itself. Here is FCAN’s analysis of the bill:

    Section 1: “Right sizing” the Cat Fund – FCAN agrees that the Cat Fund (the State of Florida) has too much exposure to hurricane risk. We need to “spread the risk” beyond Florida’s borders through reinsurance or other mechanisms. The Cat Fund is a subsidy to private insurers and shields them from the actual cost of reinsurance. The bill reduces the “top layer” of reinsurance by $1 billion a year and increases “copays” for insurers so it does decrease the subsidy.

    Section 3 gives insurers an inflation factor that they can use to raise rates. However, we have little information showing what “property insurance inflation” actually is. It is NOT the traditional inflation expected in the US economy because that has little effect on insurance rates. Insurance rates are more likely affected by competition, reinsurance costs, and the regulatory environment. These factors cannot be called “inflation.”

    Sections 4 and 5 refer to the use of mitigation “models” that would be approved by the Commission on Models for lack of a better term. It is possible that this could work, but, of course, the devil is in the details. The problem here is that the insurance companies will still be using proprietary models rather than the public model for this calculation.

    Section 6 is more egregious for consumers. It says public hearings would only be held on rate increases of 25% or more instead of the current 15%. Hearings could be eliminated completely. While hearings are of limited usefulness factually because citizen groups may not intervene in the proceedings to present witnesses and the public Consumer Advocate office is controlled by an elected official, they do serve as an important barometer of public sentiment. Politicians and regulators need to hear how their actions affect families.

    Section 7 replaces hard won prior rate review provisions and replaces them with an honor system for rate increases. In 2007, consumer groups including FCAN fought hard to require insurance companies to prove that they really needed the rate increase before it was granted by OIR. File and Use expired in May of 2012, and we have now reverted to a Use and File system in which companies justify rate increases after the fact, within limits. The proposal here would continue this system and also expand “consent to rate” sometime referred to as consumer choice.

    Consent to Rate means that an insurer may offer a policy at a higher than approved rate and the business or individual is free to accept that offer. The insurer can do this with up to 10% of their customers. The problem for consumers is that most of us don’t understand what’s in our policies, which is why they’re regulated. Regulation protects us from paying too much for a product we can’t effectively evaluate or compare. Consent to Rate erodes these consumer protections.

    Section 8 says Citizens can no longer insure homes valued over $1 million. On its face, one would think that these wealthy homeowners should not be allowed into Citizens, but... wait a minute. Previous legislatures, savvy business people that they are, realized that these were some of Citizens best customers since they paid the highest rates and had the strongest homes. Perhaps we should not give up these good customers that improve the financial position of Citizens?

    This is also why it is not a problem that second homes, or homes owned by people out of the state or even out of the country, are in Citizens. They are not being subsidized -- they are subsidizing Citizens because their homes are less likely to generate claims and they pay higher premiums (and taxes.) It is true that a very catastrophic event triggering assessments would be more costly if more high value homes are damaged, and then those assessments would be paid disproportionately by low income Floridians.  

    Balancing these concerns, FCAN is neutral on this provision. Well off homeowners are easily able to navigate the insurance markets and find coverage. Their presence in the private market might attract more participants. If this passes, Floridians would give up the contribution these customers make to Citizens.

    Section 9 changes how Citizens operates by making customers prove their continuing eligibility for Citizens at least every three years. This could create headaches for consumers, but good consumers should always shop for the best deal.

    Section 10 requires “Top Twenty” prices for some Citizens customers, allows increases of 15% in some areas instead of the 10% we currently have with the Glide Path, increases the prices for some new customers to “actuarially sound” and provides a grant program for those rendered homeless by the increases. Gee thanks!

    While Section 10 has several rate increases in bits and pieces and throws in a back door for damaged consumers. Throw this whole section out.

    Much discussion in the committee, particularly from Senator Hayes, was about how Citizens and the Cat Fund “subsidize” coastal residents. FCAN disputes that claim, pointing to the economic engine that is coastal tourism and the substantial dollars it generates. Those dollars subsidize Senator Hayes rural district. He should be ashamed that his district might accept highway or school funds that come from outside his district.

    There is little for consumers to be happy about in this bill. Sen. Simmons, the Chair, seems determined to push his free market ideology on Floridians, no matter how much it hurts. He and many in the private insurance industry say they need price increases to compete with Citizens. Leaving aside the fact that these same people say government can’t be operated efficiently, and the fact that Citizens has all the worst customers, what they are saying is that raising rates will be good for Florida.

    How is it that raising rates will help us, again? You can’t say we will save money, because you’re raising rates. You can’t say our coverage will be better, because no one is complaining about Citizens except private insurers who can’t compete. If we reduce the Cat Fund and have Citizens buy more reinsurance to spread risk outside the borders of the state, there is no reason we can’t continue with the Citizens model until private insurers can find a way to do a better job than the government. It can’t be that hard.

    Thursday, January 31, 2013

    Giving Car Dealers Special Rights


    Rep. Matt Gaetz introduced HB 55 again. The bill would require consumers to give written notice to dealers at least 30 days before filing lawsuits. Customers would not be able to pursue cases if dealers agree to pay the amounts sought in what are known as "demand letters" and pay surcharges up to $500.

    What’s wrong with that? Why should car dealers get a right that nobody else has? That’s what’s wrong. When a car dealer does something wrong, maybe illegal, then a consumer can go to court to seek justice. Believe it or not, sometimes the car dealer won’t voluntarily make things right, so we consumers need to defend ourselves.

    What HB 55 does is say that car dealers, unlike everyone else, get a chance to pay off the consumer before court. And there’s a catch. Rep. Cynthia Stafford, a Miami Democrat who voted against the bill, said she was concerned about how low-income people would be able to navigate the process and whether it would give an unfair advantage to dealers.

    But not just low income people could have trouble navigating these waters. Most consumers don’t take their lawyers with them when they go to buy a car, meaning they are likely to be completely unaware of this law. Of course, it is probably in the fine print on the paperwork we sign, but most consumers don’t take the time and don’t have the credentials to understand the legal language.

    Don’t let car dealers gain an advantage over consumers simply because they give contributions to legislators. The bill is on the agenda for Next Meeting: February 06, 2013 2:00 PM in the Business and Professional Regulation Subcommittee. Check the committee page for legislators in your district, then call or email them with your opinion.

    Friday, January 25, 2013

    Senate Insurance bill in the works



    The Tampa Bay Times Buzz blog carried the following article about what the Senate Insurance Committee might do this year:

    JANUARY 23, 2013

    Omnibus bill en route for Citizens Insurance, with higher rates likely

    A massive, multipronged bill to reform Florida’s property insurance market could be introduced soon in the Florida Legislature, as influential committee chairs are determined to shrink Citizens Insurance and stave off potential “hurricane taxes.”

    Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, said the Florida Senate and House will work on a major bill to fix the state’s property insurance market, encompassing several controversial ideas while trying not to cause “rate-shock.”

    “We’re not going to pull the needle out of the arm of South Florida in one year,” he said. “We’re talking about being able to in fact provide a viable alternative to doing nothing. And that’s critical to us.”

    The statement came after the Senate Insurance and Banking Committee heard testimony from a number of pro-business groups, state officials and other stakeholders. Most groups had a similar message: rates at Citizens are too low and are keeping the private market from expanding.

    The bill to be introduced by the committee would likely encompass a number of different measures, including raising rates faster, shrinking the state’s Hurricane Catastrophe Fund and creating stricter requirements for homeowners seeking coverage from Citizens.

    In a state with relatively high and constantly rising insurance premiums, passing the reforms—and rate hikes—envisioned by many of the pro-business groups may be difficult politically. With 1.3 million policies, Citizens is the largest insurance company in the state, and a push to raise its rates further would affect millions of voters.

    In South Florida and other coastal areas where insurance rates are highest, voting for even higher rates is a politically risky move. Last year, controversial property insurance reform measures were defeated when South Florida Republicans joined with Democrats to vote down GOP-sponsored legislation.

    Some of the presenters at the committee said it would be more risky to leave Florida taxpayers at risk of paying “hurricane taxes” after a once-in-a-lifetime type hurricane.

    “It is unfair to continue to require 77 percent of Florida homeowners to subsidize Citizens policies, in addition to 100 percent of businesses, charities, religious institutions, renters, automobile policyholders, local governments and school boards,” said Tom Feeney, president of Associated Industries of Florida, in a statement.

    Insurance Consumer Advocate Robin Westcott offered a plan that did not focus on rate hikes.

    She pitched an idea that would call for the state to invest in strengthening unprotected homes along the coast, a move that would reduce Citizens exposure by as much as 20 percent.

    “In every study that’s been done since Hurricane Andrew, we’ve found that the one central thing that has been brought up has been mitigation,” she said. “Mitigation reduces risk and really is the only answer.”


    Tuesday, January 22, 2013

    What the Senate Insurance Committee is thinking about this year

    The Florida Senate Insurance Committee is meeting in the weeks preceding the beginning of the Legislative session and talking about their plans for Florida’s insurance markets. As you may imagine, much discussion is about Citizens. Here are some of the things they are talking about.

    Reducing the size of Citizens seems to be a big concern, but there is little discussion of why. The assumption is that we must have a private market for homeowner’s insurance no matter what the cost. One of the main ways to get people out of Citizens is to raise rates.

    One suggestion is that Citizens have higher rates than the top 20 private carriers,  Currently, you may only elect Citizens if their price is 15% below the private market. This is designed to make insurance affordable. Using top 20 pricing would dramatically increase rates, a concern for the Committee. Homeowner backlash seems to be what holds the Senators back from taking some actions.

    Another suggestion, possibly aimed at reducing that backlash, is to only charge new Citizens customers the highest rates, and grandfather in existing customers. That would have the effect of reducing home sales by raising insurance rates for home buyers.

    The Committee is also looking again at “flex bands” which means that insurers can raise rates without approval of the Office of Insurance Regulation. One of the hard won reforms of the past few years is stricter regulation of insurance companies, and this would roll that back. The Committee suggests that insurers need this flexibility to function effectively. That has not been the case in the past.

    Commissioner Kevin McCarty suggested that Citizens has a dual role as the insurer of last resort and an alternative insurer. He said those roles are in conflict and he wants Citizens to be an insurer of last resort only. What this means is ending the 15% rule above that creates competition in the market.

    Think of it this way. Citizens has a 15% price handicap right out of the box. Citizens is also a government entity, meaning that, according to many, they couldn’t possible function efficiently. Lately, there has been some mismanagement and calls for a new Citizens board, so they do have some problems. Citizens is, of course, stuck with all the highest risk customers that the other companies don’t want.

    Given all those factors, you wouldn’t think Citizens could possibly make money, but they have done well and built a surplus adequate to pay for an estimated 45 year storm.

    Private companies are given a subsidy in the form of discounted reinsurance from the Cat Fund. Private companies also use sophisticated (so they say) computer programs to eliminate risky customers. One would think they would be happy and would write more policies, but no. Private insurers keep whining they can’t compete against Citizens and they simply must have higher rates, a lot higher, or they won’t write any policies. And the policies they do write won’t have coverage for flood, windstorms, mold, or sinkholes. So, fire and theft policies.

    I for one, simply do not find the insurers story to be credible. I hope that some of the more reasonable Senators and Representatives ask relevant questions and dig into what’s really going on. I hope that our Senators and Representatives fear backlash from homeowners and fear what higher insurance rates would do to our economy. Tell the insurance companies to grow up and compete in the marketplace.

    Senate Insurance Committee Chair:  David Simmons (850) 487-5010

    House Insurance Committee Chair:  Bryan Nelson     (850) 717-5031

    Friday, December 21, 2012

    FCAN Supports Gun Restrictions

    FCAN supported renewal of the Assault Weapons Ban in 2004, and in fact worked on the issue throughout 2003. Many of our board and members were involved. Unfortunately, FCAN and allies lost the battle, and we find ourselves today dealing with the consequences.

    We still support banning assault weapons, closing the gun show loophole, banning large capacity magazines, and other gun regulations. FCAN believes, like many others, that we cannot live with massacres like Newtown, and we must act. Other measures like guns that only fire in the hands of their owners, pistols that won’t leave a cartridge unseen in the gun when the clip is removed, and more mental health care.

    New measures will be introduced next year, but Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, whose husband was a victim of a mass shooting has introduced legislation in every Congress and will do so again. Here are links to current legislation.

    H.R.308 : Large Capacity Ammunition Feeding Device Act
    H.R.591 : Gun Show Loophole Closing Act of 2011
    H.R.1781 : Fix Gun Checks Act of 2011
    H.R.6241 : Stop Online Ammunition Sales Act of 2012

    The assault weapons ban hasn’t been introduced since 2007, but here is a link. Sen. Feinstein and Rep. McCarthy plan to reintroduce a similar bill in 2013.

    H.R.1022 : Assault Weapons Ban and Law Enforcement Protection Act of 2007

    This illustration shows why simply banning certain models isn’t effective. The new law must be comprehensive and ban weapons with certain features, like pistol grips, barrel shrouds, and large magazines rather than focusing on specific models:


    Write your members of Congress today and demand action.