Greetings from Florida, where we proudly decorate our palm trees with balls and lights this time of year.

Last week marked the final round of interim committee meetings before the Legislature convenes for its regular session the second week of January—almost two months earlier than normal, due to the redistricting process.  For all intents and purposes, the three main issues that will occupy most of the session are the budget, gaming expansion and, of course, redistricting.

Some, including myself, are hoping that the Legislature will put off dealing with the state’s forecast $2 billion budget shortfall until later in the year. This would serve two purposes:

  1. It is the responsible thing to do, given that more precise revenue estimates will be available later in the year
  2. Because it will free-up a lot of oxygen to tackle other important issues facing the state.

One such issue that the Legislature would do well in dealing with is insurance.  Florida’s insurance system is broken.  On the property insurance side, the state assumes too much risk that should otherwise be in the private sector.  Florida essentially is one large hurricane, or a series of smaller hurricanes, away from a fiscal disaster because two state-run property insurance mechanisms—Citizens Property Insurance Corp. and the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund—are over-exposed and do not have either the money in the bank or the ability to raise enough funds to cover their potential losses.  If they find themselves unable to pay claims after an active hurricane season, they would have to be bailed out in the form of massive economy-crushing taxes.

The other insurance ailment the state is reeling from is auto insurance, specifically the Personal Injury Protection (PIP) component.  The PIP system, originally intended to keep litigation out of auto accident claims, has turned out to do anything but.  The system is riddled with fraud and unscrupulous practices from lawyers, medical providers and staged accident “victims,” and it is costing Floridians $900 million in higher premiums just to cover the fraud.

Besides the insurance issue, the Legislature will be tackling a controversial proposal allowing the state to license three commercial resort-style casinos.  Currently, Florida allows just about every type of gaming—everything from pari-mutuel facilities to bingo to internet cafés to tribal resort casinos to card rooms in various forms.  In fact, the nation’s most profitable casino is not in Las Vegas, but actually in Florida.  It is the Seminole Hard Rock resort casino in Tampa Bay, which rakes in approximately $1 billion in revenue annually.

The current proposal would allow for three commercial, non-tribal casinos mainly in the metropolitan area of Southeast Florida (the greater Miami/Fort Lauderdale area).  Though the legislative session has yet to begin, this issue alone has demarcated clear lines.  The state’s two main pro-business organizations, for example, have already taken opposite positions on the issue. Though the budget, insurance and even redistricting will be universally-reported issues, I fully expect that the gaming debate will take up more prominent space in the state’s newspapers.


On the political front, Florida is gearing up for its Jan. 31 Presidential Preference Primary.  As polls remain anything but static in the early primary states, Florida stands to be a key determining factor, especially given that it is a closed primary state with a winner-take-all delegate selection method.  This week, Florida Republicans were pleasantly surprised to hear that a robo-call poll had been conducted in New Hampshire that threw in the name of former Gov. Jeb Bush, arguably the state’s most popular Republican.  A spokeswoman for Jeb (yes, we Floridians are on a first-name basis with him) denied any involvement and went on to reaffirm that the governor was not a candidate for president in 2012.


Speaking of Jeb Bush, the state announced this week that Florida’s graduation rate climbed again this year, hitting an all-time high of more than 80%.  This follows a six-year trend of improving graduation rates, according to the Florida Department of Education.  Dubbed Florida’s “education governor,” Jeb Bush made Florida a pioneer in the education reform movement, many policies of which have been promoted by free-market policy research organizations such as Heartland. Other figures reported in the recent report show that minority graduation has drastically improved in the last few years, including Hispanic student graduation rates that have risen to above 77%, up two percentage points from last year, and to more than 68% for black students, up more than eleven points from four years ago.


Happy Holidays from Florida, where dreams of a white Christmas are more of a nightmare!

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