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Hypocrisy in Pleas for Flood Insurance Relief?


Florida lawmakers are good at giving their practiced schtick on federal subsidies and doing their part to limit federal government, even turning away millions bound for the sunshine state for everything from insurance for poor people to high-speed rail, when the issue didn't coincide with the party line. But as they line up to beg and plead Washington not to implement bipartisan flood insurance reforms that will begin to address an unsustainable paradigm, in which the cost of less-than-practical development is subsidized by those who never see its benefits, they are revealing more than a little hypocrisy.

The Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act was designed to wean flood insurance policy holders off of federal subsidies, while discouraging development in flood-prone areas. The law mandates that anyone who bought a home with a subsidized policy after July 6, 2012, loses that subsidy at their next policy renewal. Subsidized property owners who bought before that date will see annual increases of 16 to 17 percent until they reach the actual market rate.

Florida residents can make a pretty good argument against the increases in that, according to a 2011 study, they've paid more than four times as much into the program in premiums than they've received in claim payouts. Still, the program is buried under $25 billion of red ink and the law requires an assessment of future risks. Rising sea levels caused by global climate change obviously have a special impact on a state in which 95 percent of the population lives within 5 miles of the coastline.

Here's where things stray from the norm. The properties at the greatest risk are also of the greatest value and therefore create the largest dollar-amount impacts at those percentages of increase. To simplify, this is a problem that is going to disproportionately impact the very wealthy constituents with the multimillion dollar palatial estates that dot our entire shoreline from the panhandle to the Keys and back up to Jacksonville.

So it's been less than surprising that Florida lawmakers have been able to table their disdain for federal subsidies and make (admittedly sound) arguments that those federal dollars are needed to prevent the state from suffering an enormous, negative economic impact from the new law. It would just be nice if they could find the same wisdom on issues such as a disproportionate number of low-income Floridians without access to health insurance and the negative economic impact that problem has saddled our state with.

At the end of the day, coastal development in an age in which extreme weather is clearly becoming the new normal, is an issue we need to thoughtfully address whether we like it or not. If we insist on continuing to develop the most vulnerable areas in the most expensive manner, and then using public monies to subsidize their continued reconstruction, that will break the bank faster than any entitlement program ever could.

It is also clear that there will never be an easy time to enforce such change. In such a scenario, someone will always lose. Someone's home or commercial property will become worth less than they paid for it, and someone's business venture will become untenable. They will each have Congressman to complain to as well.

There is also an argument to be made by people in Kansas and Iowa that their tax dollars shouldn't be used to subsidize senseless development on barrier islands in Florida, and that free-market theory suggests that if there is not a viable, unsocialized market for such homes and businesses in those areas, those investment dollars will find their way to more efficient ventures, creating a larger economic impact than that which is lost. Yet again, most of today's "free-market" politicians only wear that stripe when it's convenient (ie. when the negative side effects impact only the voiceless poor who can't afford thousand-dollar a plate fundraisers).

It seems that we are either all in the same boat, or we are on our own. If we can muster up the will to pitch in for beach houses and tiki bars, we should be able to find the same compassion when it comes to a four-year old whose family has trouble getting them into a walk-in clinic. But for too many elected officials, it seems as if the all-in-one-boat theory only holds water when the rich and powerful are steering the ship. With that mindset, how long until we are all sunk?


Dennis Maley's column appears every Thursday and Sunday in The Bradenton Times. He can be reached at dennis.maley@thebradentontimes.com. Click here to visit his column archive. Click here to go to his bio page. You can also follow Dennis on Facebook.


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