Up in Tallahassee, it's beginning to look a lot like 2006. With only a week left in the regular session, tough issues like property- tax reform and insurance reform remain tied up in knots. With each passing day, it becomes more likely that any resolution will be a hurried, half-baked affair. Lawmakers shouldn't let this happen -- again.
Floridians literally can't afford a replay of last year's session, when the most pressing issue -- wind- storm-insurance reform -- was left for the last day. Pre- dictably, the final version failed to provide any real relief from exorbitantly high rates. Legislators came back home with lame excuses: Well, you see, we were handed a bill on the last day of the session on a take-it- or-leave-it basis and, gosh, we had no choice but to vote in favor of it because we were told it was the best the leadership could do. Special session
In the end, homeowners had to wait almost an entire year until newly inaugu- rated Gov. Charlie Crist called a special session in January that led to the first real rollback in rates in well over a decade. But that does not mean that Florida's insurance system has been fixed. Important issues, such as expanding the state- run insurance company's ability to compete with pri- vate companies, were left for this session. And wouldn't you know it? With only days to go in the regu- lar session, that little item hasn't been resolved yet.
Understandably, proper- ty-tax reform has received much more attention this year because Florida's tax structure hasn't been over- hauled in nearly 20 years. Some version of tax reform is likely to be approved in the next few days, but it should not be pushed for- ward at the last minute if the House and Senate are at odds, which is where things stand as of today. Senate has doubts
The House version pro- vides far more "relief," but relies on a provision that would try to compensate for eliminating property taxes by raising sales taxes. The Senate has its doubts, which we share. If there is no agreement, it would not be the end of the world because the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission is examining the issue and could come up with its own thoughtful recommenda- tions.
Insurance reform, how- ever, can't wait. There's already been one special session, and Gov. Crist is unlikely to call another. A ‘‘glitch bill'' that fixes the more obvious problems in the reforms approved ear- lier this year -- such as mandating that all claims be paid within 90 days -- still awaits final action. So does another bill that deals with improvements in Citizens Property Insurance.
We are just five weeks away from the onset of a hurricane season that prom- ises to be active. That should be incentive enough to make insurance reform a priority for state lawmakers.