In Pinellas, Rick Scott says federal shutdown and flood insurance rates are “failures in leadership”

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Speaking to a group of Pinellas County realtors Tuesday morning, Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared both the federal budget crisis and skyrocketing flood insurance rates as a “failure in leadership,” especially on the part of President Barack Obama.

In the shadow of last night’s U.S. government shutdown, Scott called on Obama to take “immediate action” to postpone rising rates starting Oct. 1 as a result of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012, saying it will be “absolutely devastating” to the Tampa Bay real estate market.

“The buck stops with the president,” Scott said. 

Attending Scott’s press conference at the Pinellas Realtors Headquarters on Ulmerton were about 250 real estate agents, press and families directly touched by the flood insurance rate hikes.

According to Scott, Florida has been a “donor state” for over 35 years, paying nearly $16 billion to the federal government while getting only $4 billion back.

“When I became governor two-and-a-half years ago, we had a $3.6 billion deficit. We had to compromise,” Scott said. If he can accomplish a budget in Florida, Scott added, “the president can do the same for the nation.”

Joining Scott to call for a one-year moratorium on raising flood insurance premiums were both local and state Republicans, including St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster, Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos, state Sen. Jeff Brandes, Rep. Kathleen Peters and others.

After getting some “cheap applause” over the Tampa Bay Rays win Monday night, Foster spoke about the impact Biggert-Waters would have on the City of St. Petersburg. Pinellas County is expected to be the “Number One” place in America most affected by the elimination of federal insurance subsidies and redrawn FEMA flood zone maps.

“Biggert-Waters has all these unintended consequences,” Foster said. “It has a real economic impact on local governments, on cities and consumers.  You are going to hear words like ‘devastating,’ because it is.”

After “crawling out of the recession,” Foster said gains from rising property values in St. Pete could be wiped out if the real estate market is hurt by skyrocketing insurance, something required to be carried for many mortgages.

“The unintended consequences can be fixed,” he added, asking the state and Attorney General Pam Bondi to look into any legal options that can be taken. “We can’t rely on Washington to fix the problem they created.”

Brandes called the insurance crisis a “bait and switch” on homeowners who have bought homes across Florida as late as last July, who now are looking at flood insurance rates rising by thousands of dollars a year.

Pinellas County Property Appraiser Pam Dubov reminded the audience that almost 22,000 of the 33,000 homes affected in Pinellas County are “not even near the water.” Many are homes owned by low-income seniors now rezoned into flood areas, as well as 700 with Veterans disability exemptions.

“They are who we are here for today,” Dubov said.

The governor finished up by repeating his conservative mantra that the looming insurance issue is tied to an overall failure in the White House.

“We cut the debt we owed the federal government and unemployment because we showed leadership,” Scott concluded. “The president needs to do the same thing. He’s got to do it on the federal shutdown, and he has to do it on flood insurance.”

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.