Eli Lehrer on Charlie Crist

Eli Lehrer of R Street has written a strong indictment of Charlie Crist’s tenure as governor of Florida:


His two major legacies as governor both put Florida into dire straights. On one hand, Crist tried to cut property taxes through a rejiggering of Florida’s complex system of property tax caps. The new Crist-supported caps didn’t really cut taxes overall for many Floridians — local sales taxes soared in their wake — but did redistribute the tax burden in a way that favored incumbent residents over newcomers while leading to cuts in true core local services like road maintenance when the economy slumped. (Not coincidentally, the state’s population stopped growing for the first time ever soon after they passed.)

But it got worse. In a vain effort to keep property insurance prices low in one of earth’s most hurricane-prone locations, Crist transferred a massive share of the state’s insurance liability to taxpayers by overseeing the expansion of the state-run insurer (the Florida Citizens Property Insurance Corporation) and reinsurer (Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund.) The moves, combined with restrictions on the risk factors private insurers were allowed to use and rates, resulted in nearly all major private insurers closing their doors to new business, a flood of fly-by-night Florida-only insurers, and massive new taxpayer liabilities that could end up costing Florida taxpayers billions. Because Florida doesn’t have the money to pay the costs a major hurricane would impose on the these entities, indeed, the state would probably have to default on its debts or seek some sort of court-overseen bankruptcy-like restructuring. 

While Crist seems to have a bone of genuine environmental conscience — he’s done some genuine good work on the Florida Everglades — the environmental consequences of his insurance-related public policy far outweigh the good he did on other issues. By keeping insurance rates far below risk-based market levels, they encourage enormous new development along environmentally sensitive coasts. 

And now it seems that Crist is eager to run for governor in 2014.

Reihan Salam — Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

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