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Tuesday, Aug 19, 2014

Auto fee rollback proposal breezes through Senate committee

Published:   |   Updated: January 9, 2014 at 04:30 PM

TALLAHASSEE — This year’s “tax cut express” already is steaming along.

A Senate panel Thursday unanimously cleared a proposal to roll back certain auto fees that were jacked up almost four years ago to help close a multi-billion dollar budget gap.

The Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development voted 11-0 for the bill (SB 156), sponsored by Senate budget chief Joe Negron, R-Stuart.

“Very seldom does government give back what it takes,” Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, told Negron. “I commend you for that.”

State lawmakers and Gov. Rick Scott have been in a tax cut frenzy since learning that predicted increases in state revenues could result in a $1 billion budget surplus for fiscal year 2014-2015.

That’s even as some expenses — such as Medicaid coverage and public schools — are expected to go up.

Moreover, the governor’s office, half the Senate — including Negron — and every state representative seat is up for election this year.

Negron’s bill could save motorists $12 per vehicle by:

Lowering the service charge for issuing or transferring a license plate from $5 to $2.50.

Reducing the cost of a validation sticker from $3 to $1.

Decreasing a fee for registrations and renewals from $1.50 to 50 cents.

Trimming other surcharges for various state trust funds from $9.50 to $3.

Auto fees can vary depending on the vehicle.

State lawmakers increased those fees in 2009, part of a $2.2 billion package of tax and fee increases.

Annual tag fees went up $5 to $11.40, depending on a car’s weight. The initial vehicle registration fee went from $100 to $225.

And the cost of an initial driver’s license went up from $27 to $48, while a renewal shot from $20 to $48.

Former Gov. Charlie Crist, then a Republican, signed the fee increases into law after they were passed by the Republican-majority Legislature. Crist is now the leading Democratic candidate opposing Scott.

According to a staff analysis, Negron’s bill could cost the state $185 million in lost revenue next fiscal year, which runs July 1-June 30, because it doesn’t kick in till September if passed. For subsequent years, it’s expected to cost $236 million.

A similar proposal failed last session after lawmakers tried to pay for the cuts by eliminating a 26-year-old tax break to insurance companies worth around $225 million.

Gov. Scott, angling for $500 million in tax cuts as he faces re-election in November, has also proposed cutting motor vehicle registration fees.

In a statement Thursday, Scott called the bill an “important first step in rolling back some of the annual increases,” and said he looks forward “to working with the Legislature in delivering this victory for Florida families.”

His plan would decrease a typical auto registration to about $47 rather than $72, a move that would account for about $400 million.

Scott’s proposal would leave other increases in place, including an jump from $20 to $48 in the cost of renewing a driver’s license.

“We’ll settle on the amount some time during session,” Negron told reporters. “I think the important thing is we’re committed to having a large fee reduction.”

An identical bill (HB 61) is in the House, sponsored by Rep. Mike Hill, R-Pensacola. That bill is supported by House leadership and is scheduled to be heard next week.


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