TALLAHASSEE -- As lawmakers convene Tuesday to iron out Florida’s budget during the 60-day legislative session, their decisions will have a major impact on the budgets of families across the Sunshine State.
From property insurance to housing to taxes to energy costs, the issues lawmakers take on during session — and those they opt not to — will hit consumer pocketbooks.
With unemployment declining and the economy slowly improving, lawmakers are becoming more open to business-backed measures that could push up the cost of living in Florida.
That could mean higher insurance rates, faster foreclosures, taxes on Internet purchases and other cost drivers.
Florida’s Republican-led Legislature is staunchly against raising taxes, so standard tax hikes are generally off the table. And a budget surplus has allowed lawmakers to push for more government spending, including $2,500 raises for school teachers and restored social programs. On other measures — including college tuition — lawmakers are holding the line on costs, as Gov. Rick Scott has pledged to protect family budgets.
But the average consumer could still see their expenses increase under many of the proposed bills, even as wages stagnate in Florida’s slow recovery from a deep recession that many believe is still not over.
The higher costs come at a tough time: In addition to shrinking wages, the average household will see payroll taxes increase by more than $900 this year, part of the “fiscal cliff” deal in Washington.
“With increases in the payroll taxes and the general economic uncertainty, [cost-driving legislation] is going to hurt those at the lower income [levels] more,” said Dr. Howard Frank, a professor at Florida International University’s Metropolitan Center.
All pocketbook issues could face higher hurdles this year, as Scott eyes reelection and looks to rebrand himself around more populist themes.
“In everything we do in government, I ask, ‘How will this impact a family making less than $50,000 a year?’ Scott said as he unveiled his $74.2 billion proposed budget in January. “That is around half of the families living in Florida today, and that was also my family growing up.”
Here is a look at some of the top pocketbook issues that lawmakers will face when the 60-day legislative session kicks off on Tuesday.
Lawmakers have filed a bevy of bills to reform the state’s property insurance market, which a growing chorus of business interests has decried as overly risky. Directly in lawmakers’ crosshairs: Citizens Property Insurance, which environmentalists and business groups say is charging rates that are too low.
A massive bill working its way through the Senate Banking and Insurance committee would seek to push premiums higher, with the largest hikes falling on the 1.3 million policyholders covered by Citizens.
The bill is likely to face several amendments before it reaches a full vote, but its current form allows for several new charges for policyholders. Two separate proposals each tack on another 3 percent to Citizens’ 10 percent cap, potentially costing the average policyholder in Miami-Dade County an extra $150 each year. Other measures would force Citizens to charge higher rates than competitors, which could cost homeowners hundreds more.