State Budget: House and Senate Budget Conferees Reach Agreement
The Florida Legislature convened in special session to address the state budget deficit on Monday, January 5, 2009. By Friday, January 9, 2009, both the Senate and the House of Representatives had held extensive committee hearings and floor debate, passing their respective budget bills largely on party-line votes.
The conference committees appointed to resolve differences between the two chambers met throughout the weekend. Going into the conference process, the major differences between the Senate and the House included the amounts to be drawn down from the Budget Stabilization Fund and the Lawton Chiles Endowment, and whether $200 million would be diverted from transportation projects to address the general revenue shortfall.
The conference committees announced that agreement had been reached on the morning of Sunday, January 11, 2009. Under the state constitution’s 72-hour cooling-off period for spending bills, members of the Legislature will first be able to vote on the agreement on Wednesday, January 14, 2009.
Because of concerns that the deficit, currently estimated at $2.4 billion, could increase before the end of the fiscal year, the budget agreement provides up to $2.8 billion in transfers and savings. The major provisions of the agreed budget language include:
Politics: Former Governor Jeb Bush Rules Out a Senate Race in 2010
On January 6, 2009, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush announced that he would not run for the U.S. Senate in 2010. Late in 2008, incumbent Sen. Mel Martinez announced that he would not seek reelection at the end of his term in 2010. On the Republican side, the primary process has essentially remained frozen since the former governor let it be known that he was considering a Senate run.
Possible Republican candidates now include two former state House Speakers: Marco Rubio (R-West Miami) and Allen Bense (R-Panama City); the sitting state Attorney General, Bill McCollum; and at least two members of Congress: Reps. Vern Buchanan (R-13th Congressional District) and Connie Mack (R-14th Congressional District). Gov. Charlie Crist is widely expected to run for reelection as governor in 2010, but he has not ruled out running in the U.S. Senate race.
Possible Democratic candidates include state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, state Sen. Dan Gelber (D-Miami Beach), and at least three members of Congress: Reps. Allen Boyd (D-2nd Congressional District), Kendrick Meek (D-17th Congressional District), and Ron Klein (D-22nd Congressional District).
Insurance: Citizens Mission Review Task Force Supports Limited Rate Increases
The Citizens Property Insurance Corporation Mission Review Task Force was created by law in 2008 to analyze issues regarding the state-created property insurer, with a primary focus on the questions of how and whether the government-sponsored insurer could return to its original role as the insurer of last resort. The task force includes members appointed by the governor, the chief financial officer, the president of the Senate, and the speaker of the House.
On January 6, 2009, the task force issued its first major recommendation, voting unanimously that the Legislature should allow Citizens Property Insurance Corporation (Citizens) rates to increase by a statewide average of up to 10 percent per year, beginning in 2010, with increases in any one rating territory capped at 15 percent per year and increases to any one policyholder capped at 20 percent per year. The rate increases would reduce concerns about the actuarial soundness of Citizens’ rates and could make Citizens less attractive to the consumers who currently view it as a low-cost alternative to better-known insurers.
The task force also discussed, but has yet to act on, proposals that would, to varying degrees, restrict eligibility for Citizens’ policies to consumers who were unable to obtain coverage from other insurers.
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