Crist presses president for catastrophe fund

Feb 12, 2009

Herald Tribune–February 12, 2009


TALLAHASSEE – Gov. Charlie Crist used his joint appearance with President Barack Obama on Tuesday in Fort Myers to personally lobby the president for the creation of a national catastrophe fund that could help states like Florida that are prone to hurricanes and other natural disasters.

“I took the occasion as we met privately to advocate for it,” Crist said, noting Obama had voiced support for a national “cat” fund when he campaigned for the presidency last year.

U.S. Rep. Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton, was also on hand for the discussion. Last year, Klein crafted and won House approval for the Homeowners’ Defense Act, which would have created a national fund to pool the risk for disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes. But measure failed to win approval in the Senate.

Florida is facing an insurance crisis that some in the legislature believe is even greater than the state’s budget crisis. With $18 billion in unfunded reinsurance Florida has sold to private insurers, the state could face a disaster if a major hurricane hits.

And the disaster could come even sooner, if rating agencies declare the underfunding invalidates millions of property insurance policies.

That’s why Florida is urgently seeking federal help.

Crist’s lobbying comes while state Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty wrapped up a trip to Washington, D.C., where he was talking about the potential for a federal line of credit that could back up the state’s hurricane catastrophe fund in the next year.

Both actions drew criticism from a conservative, non-partisan think tank.

“Reliance on a federal bailout as official state policy is reckless at best,” said Christian Camara, director of the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Florida. “Instead of lobbying Washingtonpoliticians for money, Commissioner McCarty and Gov. Charlie Crist should return to Tallahassee and work together with the Legislature to restore a healthy, competitive insurance environment to ensure that Florida is able to weather the aftermath of a storm.”