With the magic wand of his own opinion, the Orlando Sentinel’s Scott Maxwell delivers high-cost, low-accountability solutions

by | Oct 29, 2023

Ah, to live in Scott Maxwell’s world—a magical utopia where imaginary dollars are plucked from an evergreen money tree, and the complexities of public policy crumble under the weight of a keystroke. In this fantasy realm, Maxwell fancies himself as the Orlando Sentinel’s chief sorcerer of state solutions, conjuring new fixes for Florida as effortlessly as he might snap his fingers to a catchy tune.

But let’s sprinkle some reality dust on this enchanted landscape. Maxwell’s latest column on Florida’s property insurance woes can be summed up as: “Spend more money, don’t worry where it comes from, problem solved.” Maxwell lays it out: skyrocketing property insurance costs exist in Florida because Republicans just won’t do the “real, hard work.”  What work is that, you ask? Well, we just need lawmakers to roll up their sleeves and decide between one of his two solutions: use taxpayer money to bulk up state-run Citizens Insurance, or use taxpayer money to subsidize the reinsurance market, or probably Maxwell’s preferred solution, use taxpayer money to do both.

I’m sure everyone noticed the common theme there: Maxwell’s magic taxpayer money. But where’s that river of taxpayer gold going to flow from, Scott? Expanding Citizens Insurance or expanding Florida’s already robust participation in the reinsurance market (which is actually improving) would both cost billions of dollars and sounds more like taxpayer robbery disguised as relief. Maxwell conveniently omits the fiscal implications of his grandiose plans.

You see, unlike Maxwell, our state lawmakers can’t just conjure up a new proposal each week, type it up on a computer, and then leave others to figure out how it could ever work in a state with actual budgets, competing priorities, and—yes—voters who are tired of picking up the tab for every new magic money trick. Florida has a balanced budget amendment on the books, which means that unlike their counterparts in California, our state lawmakers can’t run up a $32 billion budget deficit whenever they want. Nope. Our state lawmakers actually have to make tough choices between education, healthcare, infrastructure, environment, public safety, pensions, and more.

Of course, in Maxwell’s make-believe world, which is very similar to California, those problems all exist in isolation from one another, where each can be conveniently solved, one at a time, by a clever turn of phrase in a different weekly column. It’s as though he envisions himself as one of those old-school syndicated television heroes like Columbo or Matlock where he always gets to solve the case in the hour allotted for the show.

Sadly, Maxwell’s long history of suggested solutions always tends to involve more government spending. Over his columnist career, he’s championed spending your tax dollars on virtually every major problem the state has faced, including more money for education, more spending on the environment, and injecting more dollars into Medicaid. Then there’s his love-hate relationship with Citizens Insurance. In his early days, Maxwell sensibly opposed the state-subsidized boondoggle, calling it out for what it was at the time: a subsidy for people with beachfront property. Now in his latest column, he advocates for doubling down on Citizens, turning it into a form of Medicaid for property insurance, as though Medicaid is itself a shining example of financial thriftiness. How can one man advocate so many spending measures and yet seem blissfully unaware of the fiscal paradox he’s entangled in?

Let’s face it, unlike the effort put into Maxwell’s columns, policy-making is hard work. It’s a slow, painful process of prioritization, negotiation, and, indeed, compromise—none of which can be bypassed with a wave of Maxwell’s cynical, rhetorical wand. GOP lawmakers have been engaged on the state’s property insurance problem for a long time, but they are navigating real-world constraints: the state’s unique property insurance needs, balanced against education, healthcare, public safety, and infrastructure, all while keeping the state fiscally stable. And it’s working. Despite Florida’s many challenges, people are choosing to move here in droves, leaving more poorly run states like California and New York, both of which seem to be a much better fit for Maxwell’s governmental “solutions.”

Yes, we can spend more money to solve the state’s insurance crisis. Absolutely. But just don’t be surprised when Maxwell is first in line to complain that we’re taking money from some other pet program he prefers to fund next week. While most of us navigate the harsh realities of policy choices and budget trade-offs, it seems Maxwell writes from a world where the looming hurricane of consequence never makes landfall.


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