Gov. Rick Scott's plan to lower vehicle-registration fees by $401 million picked up steam ahead of its announcement Thursday, gaining measured support from Senate President Don Gaetz and, somewhat sarcastically, from Scott's chief rival in his bid for re-election next year.
The proposal, which Scott was set to unveil Thursday afternoon in Tampa, would roll back the fees to register a "typical automobile" by $25.05, from $71.85 to $46.80 -- where they stood before a 2009 increase that was part of an effort to shore up the state's finances in the wake of the economic recession.
The initiative is part of a larger, $500 million tax-and-fee-cut package that Scott has promised in his last legislative session before facing voters in November. A white paper by Scott's office said more details on the remainder of the cuts would come later.
Meeting with reporters Thursday morning for a breakfast, Gaetz, R-Niceville, threw his support behind some form of reduction in fees for motorists. He pointed out that the Senate approved a smaller proposal last year from Senate Appropriations Chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart.
Negron's bill promised to roll back the fees by $12 a vehicle in exchange for doing away with a tax credit for insurance companies.
"We welcome the governor getting on Joe Negron's bandwagon," Gaetz said.
Gaetz said he didn't regret voting for the increases in 2009.
"It was the right vote," Gaetz said. "We were trying to keep the lights on at the Capitol and keep the lights on more importantly in schools. ... My recollection is that it was certainly meant to be temporary and the hope was that it could be rolled back at some point."
Gaetz also shied away from directly answering whether lawmakers would cut taxes and fees by more than $500 million, saying it would be "significant" to hit Scott's goal.
"I think it depends upon what the fiscal picture looks like as we get closer to session," he said. "But nothing would please [House Speaker] Will Weatherford and Don Gaetz more than being able to return more money to taxpayers instead of less money."
Former Gov. Charlie Crist, who as a Republican signed the increases, offered a backhand compliment to Scott for taking on the fee issue. Crist is now running for governor as a Democrat.
"When these fees were passed by Rick Scott?s colleagues and signed into law they were never meant to be permanent," Crist said in a statement issued by his campaign. "I'm surprised it?s taken this long for Governor Scott to realize that it?s time to roll these fees back -- better late than never."
Crist's campaign pointed out that the fees have been in place for longer under Scott than they were under Crist, who left the governor's office after an unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate in 2010.
The statement drew a sharp retort from Susan Hepworth, a spokeswoman for the Republican Party of Florida.
"Is Crist saying he?s glad Rick Scott is cleaning up his mess?" she asked in an email.