Thursday, January 8th, 2008
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
LOUISIANA TAXPAYERS ARE THE LOSERS
IN PROPERTY INSURANCE SCHEME
In days of old, Robin Hood took from the rich and gave to the poor. When it comes to insurance, the Louisiana Legislature and the Insurance Department do just the reverse. They apparently think it is better to take from every taxpayer, rich and poor alike, and give away public funds only to homeowners, who are more likely to be a little better off. If you don’t own a home, either by choice or because you cannot afford to, your tax dollars are taken out of the state general fund to be given away as a gift to those fortunate enough to be a homeowner. It’s Robin Hood sticking it to the little guy.
The Louisiana insurance Department is ballyhooing the giveaway program as homeowners getting part of their insurance premiums back. Headlines in several of the state daily newspapers bought in to the Department press release by stating that “Homeowners may get rebate on Insurance.” But this was a misleading fiction, since there was no rebate involved. Homeowners were not getting a rebate on what they had paid for insurance. What they were getting was a handout of state general funds from the legislature. Great if you qualify for the handout. But it’s a giveaway for only a certain class of people, and completely inconsistent with the prudent expenditure of taxpayers’ dollars.
This ill-conceived program was the brainchild of the Department of Insurance and was sold to the legislature in 2006 as a hook for getting major insurance companies to sell property insurance in the state. The legislature set aside $100 million for grants to go directly to new insurers. Few companies were interested, and only a handful of insurers applied, most of who were planning to enter the property insurance market in Louisiana anyway. Why not take the freebie. But after two years, the program has proven to be a bust, with less than 30% of the allocated monies being given away.
So in an effort to blunt the outrage of numerous homeowners over the highest homeowner insurance costs in the nation, the giveaway program has been dangled as a way to pacify the criticism. But the funds are not a portion of insurance premiums being returned to policy holders. State general fund money is being used that is paid into the state treasury by all taxpayers; whether they are homeowners are not. Since the roads are crowded, why not give a grant to all bicycle commuters? How about a check from the state treasury to everyone who has a driver’s license? They pay the highest auto rates in the country. The same illogic applies.
There may well be constitutional problems here also. Has the legislature gone beyond its authority by arbitrarily passing out state funds to a singled out group of citizens who have no direct relationship as a group to the source of the funds? In other words, it is not legal to give preferences to a whole group of citizens just because they own a home. The money they will receive does not come from the insurance premiums that they have paid, but is a gift from the general fund that every citizen, homeowner or not, pays into. So is it legal to favor a single class? The courts will no doubt have to figure this out.
And if such a program was fair to begin with, about the worst possible way to give homeowners special consideration is to send them a check, which is the method being proposed by the Insurance Department. Think of the huge cost involved in preparing and mailing out checks to every homeowner in the state. Conservative estimates to prepare the hundreds of thousands of checks is well over $15 million. That’s on top of the seventy one million dollars that will come out of the state treasury.
One way is to give the homeowner a tax credit is to allow for it when a state income tax form is filed. An even better suggestion is to mandate that ever insurance company selling property insurance in the state reduce the amount being charged by fifty dollars, which is the proposed refund. The burden would then be put on the insurance company to apply for the state funds that are being made available. No postage, no work effort by public employees, no cost. Maybe this is just too simple for a state agency to undertake (or understand), but there are a number of more efficient ways to skin this cat than are presently being proposed.
When all is said and done, this poorly though out proposal started out as nothing more than a “share the wealth” program for a select few insurance companies that turned out to be a bust. Now, to placate disgruntled homeowners in the state, tax dollars will flow from the many to help the select few. No other state has even considered such a program. And it is no secret why. It’s bad public policy. But hey. Huey Long is looking down with a smile on his face.
“Well, fancy giving money to the governmentMight as well put it down the drainFancy giving money to the governmentNobody will ever see the stuff again.”–Sir Alan Patrick Hebert
Peace and Justice.
Jim Brown’s weekly column appears in a number of newspapers and websites throughout the State of Louisiana. You can read Jim’s Blog, and take his weekly poll, plus read his columns going back to the fall of 2002 by going to his own website at http://www.jimbrownla.com.
Jim also has a new book out on his views ofLouisiana. You can read about it and order it by going to www.jimbrownla.com. . Jim’s radio show on WRNO (995 fm) fromNew Orleans can be heard each Sunday, from 11:00 am until 1:00 pm.