Category Archives: Florida

And the Winner Is Boring

The Buzz has the story on
the new Florida License plate. While it’s nice that they asked the public to vote on the four finalists, an online vote is too easily manipulated. In any case it would have been even better if they’d crowdsourced the design choices. Let’s face it, all four choices were pretty boring.

Then again, having the winner be the least bad of lousy choices does make the outcome somewhat better than the average Florida state election.

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Public Participation in State Rate Setting

Eye on Miami has a great letter from a citizen who tried to participate in state electric power rate-setting. Putting FPL on the spot should be required reading for anyone interested in energy law, state administrative law, or more general questions of public participation in government.

Here is just a small taste:

My first stop on my adventure was the public service hearing held in Sarasota on May 31, 2012. Here I first saw the most shocking thing about the public hearing process. In the lobby of the hearing site (Sarasota City Hall) were numerous FPL customer service representatives wearing FPL shirts who are greeting members of the public arriving to speak to the rate increase proposal. And FPL seems to have their own dedicated room. Which made no sense at all. It’s like a court hearing but one of the parties to the case gets to have their own room in the courthouse and a staff to lobby everyone, judges, jurors and the public as they walk by as to why their side is right. FPL also gets to have a table handing out literature. Nobody else gets to have a room or a table or representatives right outside the hearing room. There is no Audubon Society, no Environmental Defense Fund, no Florida Public Interest Research Group in the lobby lobbying (I guess that is where the term comes from!) against the rate increase or against the proposals or actions of FPL.
The importance of this cannot be overstated. I had not yet intervened in the case but when I did subsequently intervene and speak from the stage as a party at the four Miami area public service hearings, I found that FPL gets a special room at every public hearing. They get to intercept members of the public who come to the hearings with complaints, before those members of the public enter the hearing room, and redirect them to the special FPL room and give them whatever it takes to “resolve their complaint”. The evidence indicates they are much more generous in achieving customer satisfaction in the special FPL rooms at the public hearings than they are in the normal course of their business. Essentially they run bribery rooms at every public hearing site with FPSC blessing.

Posted in Florida, Law: Administrative Law | Leave a comment

Citizens Insurance Won’t Be Making Sweetheart Loans to Dodgy Insurance Companies After All

Some time ago, I got upset that Citizens Insurance planned to use our premiums to make GIFTS to private insurance companies. Well, it seems the bright boyos at Citizens paid Goldman Sachs a great deal of money to explain how it would work, and they explained that it wouldn’t work as none of the potential participants were solvent enough to be trusted with any money, so the plan is off the table at least for this year. See The Buzz for the details, Citizens to abandon loan program for private companies, floats new ‘clearinghouse’ idea. (How do I know Goldman Sachs was paid a lot of money when the article doesn’t say? Simple: it’s Goldman Sachs.)

This of course has nothing to do with the increasing ethical quicksand gradually engulfing the management at Citizens in which we’ve learned that Citizens fired all four members of its “integrity team” while they were investigating allegations of sexual harassment, indecent drunken behavior in public, questionable payments and falsified documents. Things got so bad that Gov. Rick Scott said he wants Citizens Insurance to have an inspector general — think about it: there’s a state body so corrupt that Rick Scott thinks it needs investigating and cleaning up! That’s a scary concept. But do not fear, the earth still revolves around the sun: the Governor is in no hurry to do anything. So that’s alright then.

Posted in Econ & Money, Florida, Politics: The Party of Sleaze | Leave a comment

Yet Another Florida Voting Disaster

Voting started today for the design of Florida’s new default license plate. We’re supposed to have a choice of four not-very-lovely designs, all optimized to be red-light-camera and toll-camera friendly (oh, joy).

Floridians are invited to vote for the design of our choice at a special site set up by the state Department of Highway and Motor Vehicles: http://www.vote4floridatag.com/.

Voting is scheduled to end Dec. 14.

But once again, Florida is having troubles with early voting: the vote4floridatag.com site is down. Figures.

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Wasted Time in Line for Early Voting Cost Floridians up to $190 Million

The question is: What was the cost to the State of Florida due to the hours and hours spent waiting in line for early voting – delays due to misfeasance or malfeasance by Rick Scott, the Governor of Florida, and the state legislature (proprietor, Republican Party, State of Florida)?

My rough estimates makes it up to $190 million worth of lost time waiting in line — a cost placed on all Floridians because the state government couldn’t (or more likely, consciously chose not to) make decent provisions for early voting. Please check my math — corrections welcomed.

The basic shape of the calculation is pretty easy: we just have to multiply the following three numbers:

Cost = V * N * A

Where
V = Value of an hour of the average Floridian adult’s time
N = Number of early voters
A = Average wait time

Each of these numbers can be estimated with varying degrees of confidence. We won’t require precision – this is back-of-the-envelope stuff, we’re just trying to get the answer right well within an order of magnitude.

Value of an hour of the average Floridian adult’s time

According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean hourly wage in Florida is $19.591

So V=19.592

Number of early voters

There were 4,469,393 early voters of whom 54% voted early in-person making 2,413,472 persons (approx) who had to wait in lines (the rest voted absentee).

So N= 2,413,4723

Average wait time

This is actually the hard one. For the in-person voters, wait times varied enormously by date, time of day, and geography. I know people who voted in an hour; I know people who waited over four hours. When I happened to look, data from Miami-Dade Elections showed various wait time at different polling places ranging from 20 minutes to six hours. Much of the cluster was in the 2-4 hour range though, so I think we should use those as our range. 4

So, A could be anything from 2 to 4; we should calculate the range.

Cost = V * N * A

Cost = 19.59 * 2,413,472 * [2 to 4]

Cost = $94,559,833 – $189,119,665

Rounding, to two significant figures (this is just the back of an envelope, remember) gives us a final cost range of $95 million to $190 million. All because Rick Scott and his gang foisted this giant ballot on us, and instead of making provisions for extra staff and voting times, cut the number of days for early voting.

(Thanks to IP for asking the question.)


  1. You may be thinking that not every hour spent waiting in line came at the expense of work, But in a hypothetical perfect market, workers will value the marginal hour of leisure at the same value as the forgone wages. Hence, for these purposes, we can value an hour of leisure at the same rate as work. []
  2. Yes, but both the leisure hour and the work hour should be valued at the marginal rate. This $19.59 figure is the median rate. The marginal rate is surely different? Well, probably, but we don’t know how – for some folks it’s time and half, for others a low-wage second job, for still others on monthly pay there’s no salary difference at all. I don’t know how to estimate that, or even what the sign is, so I’m going to ignore it. []
  3. What about unemployed people – shouldn’t we value their time (or lost productivity) at zero? Well, yes if we are calculating lost productivity as opposed to the cost to the individuals actually doing the waiting, feel free to knock off 8.7% from the estimate. []
  4. Yes, I’m assuming the rest of the state was the same as here. I’m open to correction if there’s evidence of systematic geographic skew in wait times. []
Posted in 2012 Election, Econ & Money, Florida | Leave a comment

An Important Vote in Florida: Retain our Supreme Court Justices

The Florida Supreme Court is actually one of the better courts in the land. Now comes the Republican Part of Florida and “Americans for Prosperity” (a front group financed by the Koch brothers), in an attempt to politicize and destroy the independence of the Florida Supreme Court.

Don’t let them get away with it. Somewhere nearish the top of your lengthy Florida ballot vote to RETAIN all three Florida Supreme Court Justices: R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince. Vote YES at 62, 64 and 66. Non-retention would be terrible on its own terms: these Justices have done a fine job. Removing them from office would reward the worst sort of partisanship, the less-than-forthright sort promoted by Koch bros. money.

Non-retention would also set off a power grab — although which set of Republicans will get to appoint up to three Justices depends in part on whether proposed Florida Constitutional Amendment #5 passes. If it doesn’t then the Governor will appoint; if it does, the Senate will confirm. Despite the fact that it could push the court even more to the right, Senate confirmation is actually OK with me. Nevertheless, I’m voting against Amendment 5, and you should too, because of all the other nasty stuff in there.

If you want to know about Good Justices, Unfairly Attacked see the Defend Justice from Politics webpages.

Video by Defend Justice from Politics — a group run by Republican Stanley Tate and former City of Coral Gables general counsel Elizabeth M. Herhandez along with local litigator Rosalyn Sia Baker-Barnes. Read about them at the Buzz.

Previously: Vote NO on Florida Constitutional Amendment 4 and A Bunch of Horrible Florida Constitutional Amendments.

Posted in 2012 Election, Florida | 3 Comments

Citizens Insurance Wants to Turn Me Into ‘Take Out’

Apparently, there’s still some chance to block Citizens Insurance company’s $350M part-loan part-giveaway program that involves a subsidy plan to use my premiums to pay private insurers to take over its policies. On the other hand powerful figures in the state GOP are lining up to support gifts to their friends.

My experience suggests the program isn’t necessary: although the program is not operating yet I’ve gotten my first letter of the post-hurricane season from a new, small, (fly-by-night?) insurance company called Homeowners Choice Property & Casualty (HCI) that has got me on its menu as “Take Out”.

“Take-out” is how Citizens refers to the policies cherry-picked by private insurance companies. And perhaps because I live relatively far from water and thus face less flood risk, I’m the cherry.

These letters follow a form. They have threats about how awful Citizens will be, threats founded in fact if skewed to the worst case. They are opt-out only: do nothing and I will be transferred to the new company about which I know nothing.

When I got the letter, HCI didn’t even disclose the terms of the policy they are offering me. Although the letter contains vague language about covering “other structures,” like gazebos, that I don’t happen to have, and mentions some “coverage options”, the real meat was supposed to be online. I was invited to go online to view financial info and see “a coverage comparison”. There is some financial information about HCI at Citizens’ “Take-out Companies” page, but when I visited last week, there was nothing about policy terms there. Checking back today, however, I find that there is now a summary coverage analysis document. Bottom line: very little difference — for now.

And of course there’s no reason to believe the premiums will be any less with any given company than with Citizens’: HCI is required to keep my policy for at least 10 years (unless they go broke first), provide “substantially the same coverage” as Citizens for the first three years, and limit rate increases to 10 percent per policy per year. Such comfort.

HCI’s homepage is not much use to me either. They tell me they are rated “A Exceptional” by Demotech, which is the rating agency for insurance companies too small to get a rating from AM Best. Looking at Demotech’s site, I find that “Exceptional” is only the third-best rating (everyone is waay above average here!), and means that according to some model (about which we are told nothing) Demotech thinks that 97% of the companies with this rating will be solvent 18 months from now. An A rating puts HCI in the top 70% of companies rated by Demotech. Yes, top 70%! (Not surprisingly, the Demotech ratings have been accused of being inflated.)

A little Internet searching tells me HCI just recently doubled in size by taking over policies from HomeWise, a failed insurance company. Was that before or after they got their rating?

Given that Governor Scott’s team, gripped by anti-government ideology, seeks to destroy Citizens Insurance by continually raising premiums and cutting coverage even though Citizens now has the $6+ billion reserves we always were told it would need to be solvent, I might actually be prepared to consider opting out some day despite my earlier reluctance. But I’d have to know what I was getting, and to have more confidence about the company I was going to than HCI has been willing or able to provide.

The track record so far for these insurance startups is sort of what I’d expect:

The granddaddy of onetime Citizens’ takeout companies, Poe Financial Group, was swamped with hurricane payouts and fell into Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization in August 2006 after storms caused more damage than it could cover. To pay for Poe, the state assessed everyone in Florida who buys homeowner or auto insurance. Lightning struck again with Magnolia Insurance, which was the biggest participant in a Citizens takeout program in 2009, the year before it went out of business. Another takeout firm, HomeWise Insurance Co., failed in 2011 and its policies were assumed by Tampa-based Homeowners Choice, which is the single-biggest takeout company participating in this round. Scott Wallace, the past president of Citizens Property Insurance, is now president of Homeowners Choice.

Looks like I’m opting out of this one too.

Update (10/11): Great article on some of the pros and cons of opting-out of Citizens from Tampa Bay Times. Where is the Miami Herald on all this? Fun fact: 30% of Citizens policy holders opted out last time letters went out — that’s a lot for an opt-out program. Citizens is cranking up the propaganda to reduce that number.

Posted in Econ & Money, Florida, Shopping | 5 Comments