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FLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER TOM GALLAGHER'S WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

Volume 3, Number 16, April 17, 2006

This week is Florida Firefighter Appreciation Week, and we all have much to be grateful for.  Not only do these men and women save homes and lives during fires, but they also respond to automobile accidents, forest fires, hazardous material spills, hurricanes and more.

This week we recognize 10 men and women for their leadership in the fire, rescue and emergency management services in 2005.  Among them are a firefighter who pulled a woman from a house fire, an educator who works to protect wild animals during emergencies, and a forest ranger who helped manage a 650-acre fire. 

Their jobs are risky, and unfortunately we will also be honoring four firefighters who died last year in the line of duty.  Their names will be added to 131 others already on the Florida Fallen Firefighter Wall of Honor.

In the aftermath of back-to-back hurricanes and the threat of man-made disasters, in addition to daily duties of responding to fires, all of our emergency responders have valiantly responded to the needs of the people of Florida, and we owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude.  This week, if you know any firefighters, thank them and when a fire truck goes roaring by, say a prayer.

-- Tom Gallagher


GALLAGHER RENEWS CALL FOR INSURANCE RATE RELIEF

New Data From Revenue Estimating Conference Provides Further Cause For Relief

The Florida General Revenue Estimating Conference released new estimates stating Florida is expected to receive an additional $960 million in unanticipated revenue this year and the next.  Today’s estimate is in addition to the $3.2 billion in increased revenue announced by the Revenue Estimating Conference last November.

“This surplus of nearly $4.2 billion strengthens the case for providing immediate insurance rate-relief to Florida’s homeowners,” said Tom Gallagher, Florida’s Chief Financial Officer.  “Providing rate relief for Florida’s families using surplus tax dollars is good public policy and I’m encouraged by the growing support for it from Governor Bush and state lawmakers.   This is not a bailout of Citizens, it is common-sense relief for Florida’s hard-hit homeowners.” 

Since 2004, Gallagher has been calling on the Legislature to use surplus tax revenues to offset any assessments by Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, rather than taxing Floridians twice for the damages incurred by multiple hurricanes.  When the Legislature created Citizens, the state’s insurer of last resort, it mandated that any shortfalls in revenue be recovered through assessments on homeowners.

“Rate relief is a short-term solution and should be tied to long-term fixes,” Gallagher said.  “I applaud Governor Bush and state lawmakers for considering my proposals to provide relief to homeowners as well as long-term, comprehensive reforms of Citizens and our insurance market.”

“The eight hurricanes which stuck Florida in less than 15 months created problems that no one could have ever anticipated,” Gallagher said.  “Addressing those challenges, reducing the burdens on Florida homeowners and preparing Florida’s families for future storms remain my top priorities this session.”

SUPPORT GROWING FOR RATE RELIEF FOR FLORIDIANS

“If there are additional reforms that are going to be put on the table, which the Legislature is really pursuing, to its credit, then I think providing some financial support from the reserves we have is more than appropriate,” said Governor Jeb Bush.

St. Petersburg Times – April 4, 2006 
“I'm open-minded to addressing some of these deficits,” said Senate President Tom Lee.  “I think we can resolve the cat fund through a relatively painless cash buildup. If you have a pot of money you're setting aside to fund property and casualty deficits in government-run entities, it's a fair debate to discuss where to put that money.”

Palm Beach Post – April 7, 2006
“To me, it’s just like a tax cut,” said House Speaker Allan Bense, joining Gov. Jeb Bush and Lee in support of using tax money for Citizens.  “We can either send people checks they can use toward their assessments, or we can figure out a way to get that directly to the people…”


WORKSHOP HELD IN FLORIDA FOR FAITH-BASED AND COMMUNITY ORGANIZATIONS

An integral part of our nation’s social service network are faith-based and community organizations (FBCOs) which have a long tradition of helping Americans in need.  President Bush has encouraged grants of federal funds to the most effective organizations—whether public or private, large or small, faith-based or secular.  The beneficiaries are America’s poor who are best served by the providers who are most capable of meeting their needs.

President Bush created the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives to strengthen and expand the role of FBCOs in providing social services. The federal government has worked to accomplish this mission through regulatory and policy reforms, legislative efforts, and public outreach to FBCOs. By making information about federal grants more accessible and the application process easier, the Initiative has enabled FBCOs to effectively compete for funds.

The White House is hosting a series of regional conferences and workshops in support of effective faith-based and community social service programs. A one-day event in Jacksonville recently provided participants with information about the grants process and available funding opportunities, an overview of the legal responsibilities that come with the receipt of federal funds and various grant writing tutorials. The conference also provided an opportunity to inform state and local officials about equal treatment regulations and other central elements of the Faith-Based and Community Initiative.

Twelve federal agencies were on hand in Jacksonville to provide grant information and reflect the administration's recognition that faith-based and community organizations are well-situated to partner with the government in serving poor and low-income individuals and families, particularly those with the greatest needs such as families in poverty, prisoners re-entering the community, homeless families, and at-risk youth.

The underlying premise of the President’s Initiative is that an open and competitive federal grant-making process will deliver social services to those whose needs are greatest. Federal agencies have worked on a variety of measures to do this, including making information more accessible, providing training and technical assistance, broadening program eligibility, changing regulations, streamlining grant applications, focusing on the unique needs of grassroots organizations; and eliminating preferential treatment for existing and former grantees.


PROPERTY INSURANCE OPTIONS NEED TO IMPROVE

Property insurance affordability and availability are difficult challenges in Florida after eight catastrophic hurricanes inflicted $31 billion in insured losses, and damaged or destroyed one out of every five homes statewide over the past two years.

Our state and our citizens have worked hard to recover and rebuild. As a member of the Florida Cabinet, CFO Gallagher is committed to working for common-sense rate relief and improving insurance coverage options this legislative session.

To learn more about these issues, read Legacy Spending, an editorial from Sunday's Tallahassee Democrat, and We Must Improve Property Insurance Options, an opinion by CFO Gallagher.


ANNUAL NATIONAL HURRICANE CONFERENCE MEETS FOR THE 28TH YEAR

The national emergency management community gathered in Orlando for the 28th Annual National Hurricane Conference this past week. After the record-breaking season of 2005, interest is high on the topic of hurricanes, drawing 2,000 participants - emergency managers, first responders, forecasters, public officials, insurers, businesspeople, health-care specialists, volunteers and the news media. These front-line citizens who help communities prepare, endure and recover from hurricanes get together to discuss what went right and wrong in the past season to do better the next time.

Meteorologists planned for improved computer models to predict storms, noted that the public doesn't always heed warnings or respond to forecasts, and encouraged officials to make the public more aware that storm-surge can cause a threat equal to wind damage and potentially be more life-threatening.

National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield provided an overview of the past season, recapping storms’ paths and what made each storm unique. For instance, Wilma had the lowest recorded pressure and Stan killed more than 2,000 people in Mexico and Central America. Dennis struck the Florida Panhandle at the same place Hurricane Ivan hit the year before.

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff discussed where natural disasters fit in the overall planning of homeland security and discussed top-priority reforms in emergency response to be completed by the June 1 start of hurricane season. U.S. Coast Guard Vice Admiral Thad Allen explained what happened in New Orleans after the levees broke, from initial rescue operations to draining the city of water. Federal Emergency Management Agency Acting Director R. David Paulison reviewed FEMA’s response to the 2005 hurricanes and how the agency will adapt in the future.

The American Red Cross said this hurricane season it is going to dramatically increase its pre-positioned supplies in hurricane-prone areas well ahead of time. The group will also have enough food and water in place to serve 1 million meals a day, and plans to increase both its call center capacity and Internet technology to help get financial assistance out to hurricane victims more quickly.  Following Hurricane Katrina, the Red Cross assisted more than 1.3 million families with financial assistance and served 50 million meals.

Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Craig Fugate discussed Florida’s response to the continuing threat from hurricanes and the state’s experience helping its neighboring states following Katrina.

Law enforcement officials discussed evacuation and first responder problems. Meteorologists brought out the problems they have forecasting a storm’s course, strength and storm surge. Insurance officials talked about the pressures of insuring homes within across the states. Speakers addressed the problems in providing long-term housing for many displaced people.

There is an ongoing debate among experts on whether the recent upswing in the number of strong hurricanes is part of the natural cycle or a result of global warming – a debate has captured the interest of the hurricane-tired public.

As with every hurricane conference, William Gray, the respected hurricane forecaster from Colorado State University, offered his forecast for the coming season, predicting 17 named storms, nine hurricanes and five intense hurricanes. The 2005 season had 27 named storms, 15 hurricanes and seven intense hurricanes.

Florida’s emergency managers are prepared due to first-hand experience with storms in the state. It is the responsibility of each Floridian to be prepared for the upcoming season,  taking the time to assess your own situation, making specific plans for what to do when a storm approaches, and stocking up on food, medicine and survival items well in advance. Have immediate emergency supplies on hand, such as water, batteries and non-perishable food, to last at least 72 hours.

Know your homeowners' policy details. Talk to your agent about your policy and determine if you have enough coverage to rebuild your home in case of disaster. The cost of rebuilding in your area may now be higher.


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