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Monday, December 5, 2016

Rick Scott campaigned for governor on the promise of running Florida like a big business, but the one big business that Florida actually runs is out of control.

Citizens Property Insurance Corp. was created a decade ago, supposedly to help residents afford hurricane coverage for their homes. With 1.3 million policyholders, Citizens is the state’s largest insurer of property.

And it’s been managed about as carefully as amateur night at your local strip joint. In fact, that’s where one happy Citizens worker liked to use his company credit card.

Last year Citizens jacked up its rates almost 11 percent, and now it wants legislative approval to go much, much higher.

The cost of insuring a home already is one of the heaviest financial loads carried by Florida families. If you wonder what happens to all the hefty premiums, an investigative series by the Miami Herald and the Tampa Bay Times presents an enlightening snapshot.

Basically, the money’s flying all over the place.

According to the state’s chief inspector, Citizens employees and some board members somehow piled up $1.3 million in travel expenses between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31 last year.

The tab includes a $633-a-night hotel stay in Bermuda for the company Chief Financial Officer Sharon Binnun, as well as expensive visits to Switzerland and London. She jetted through a total of four countries and racked up $35,000 in charges.

Citizens customers (and I’m one of them) are rightfully curious about the pretense upon which a Florida insurance executive would travel to such exotic places and claim it as a business trip.

Meanwhile, senior managers who weren’t flying anywhere still got reimbursed on more than 50 occasions for meals in their own hometowns. That’s a sweet deal for them, but a sour one for policyholders and taxpayers who bailed out the company after the last bad storm season.

Despite the swelling scandal about overspending at Citizens, the current president, Barry Gilway, handed out fat raises to loyal executives including Binnun, his passport-flashing CFO.

Scott has expressed dismay over the unseemly pay hikes raises and exorbitant travel, and wants to ban board members from international jaunts. His long view is to shrink Citizens and attract other big insurance firms into Florida as competition, which he says will lead to lower premiums.

Stop laughing. The man really said that.