Vehicle fee cut one stop from governor's desk

By Jim Turner, News Service of Florida
Published On: Mar 19 2014 08:34:44 AM EDT

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -

Lawmakers could park a bill on Gov. Rick Scott's desk within the week to reduce vehicle registration fees -- at an amount close to the governor's election-year recommendation.

The Senate on Tuesday unanimously agreed to roll back a controversial 2009 hike on motor vehicle fees, while the House version (HB 7123) is lined up to go before the lower chamber on Wednesday.

The proposals would potentially save Floridians between $20 and $25 per vehicle registration, with the total depending on the size of the vehicle.

"We're in a position now where we can return almost $400 million a year to our constituents, to families, to individuals, to business owners," said Senate Appropriations Chairman Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican who sponsored the proposal (SB 156).

Scott's office said he would sign the measure if approved by the Legislature. Earlier, Scott offered praise for the proposal.

"I like to get these fees reduced as fast as we can. I want to get the money back in Floridians' hands," Scott said after a state Cabinet meeting Tuesday. "We have a budget surplus. We've had a big turnaround in our economy. Our budget's grown now. After this we're going to have a big surplus, so the faster we can get it back to them, I'd like to get it back to them."

The reduction would collectively save motorists about $309 million during the upcoming 2014-15 budget year, with the new lowered rates going into effect Sept. 1.

The savings would grow the following year to about $395 million, when they would be in effect for the full 12 months. State fiscal years start in July.

Scott has asked for a nearly $400 million cut in vehicle-registration fees, eliminating increases signed into law in 2009 by potential Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist, then a Republican occupying the governor's mansion.

The vehicle fee rollback is the largest portion of Scott's request for lawmakers to cut $500 million in taxes and fees as they factor a projected $1.2 billion surplus into the budget for the next fiscal year.

In the House, some Democrats have claimed the vehicle registration fee reduction is simply being done to aid Scott's re-election campaign, noting that it only erases some of the 2009 increases that also raised rates on state identification cards, motor-vehicle titles and transfers.

In addition to the 2009 vehicle registration fees increase, late payment fees on driver's license renewals increased 15-fold, from $1 to $15, and the cost of an original driver's license went from $27 to $48. Renewing driver's licenses increased from $20 to $48.

But Senate Democrats maintained Tuesday that the 2009 increases and the proposed reduction have been the "responsible thing."

"Just realize when we did this it was necessary," said Senate Minority Leader Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale. "We've been criticized for it, we've been criticized a lot about raising the taxes at the time, but at the time we did the responsible thing as a Legislature. And I'm so proud now that the Legislature is doing the responsible thing again now that the economy is better and our budget looks better."

The 2009 law (SB 1778) was unanimously approved by the Senate, while the voting went mostly along party lines in the House, with Democrats opposed.

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