TALLAHASSEE - The Legislature's two budget chiefs say they are willing to revisit a failed proposal to roll back the state's automobile fees, which would save an individual driver as much as $12 a year on license plate and other charges.
What is not clear is if they will be able to pay for it the same way: by scuttling a 26-year-old tax break to insurance companies that is worth around $225 million.
"Obviously there were members of the House who had concerns about the offsetting tax proposed in that bill," said Rep. Seth McKeel, the Lakeland Republican who chairs the House Appropriations committee.
"But I'm happy to tee it up again and let the body decide on the policy," McKeel told the Tribune. "I'm hopeful the budget will be in a position again where we can offer tax and fee reduction proposals next year as well."
The rollback proposal would have:
Lowered the service charge for issuing or transferring a license plate from $5 to $2.50.
Reduced the cost of a validation sticker from $3 to $1.
Decreased a fee for registrations and renewals from $1.50 to 50 cents.
Trimmed other surcharges for various state trust funds from $9.50 to $3.
Gov. Rick Scott didn't weigh in on this year's bill (SB 1832) but has been avowedly anti-tax, especially as he enters a campaign for re-election in 2014.
The proposal passed the Senate unanimously this legislative session. It would have reduced a bill for auto fees of up to $19 down to $7.
But the insurance industry, which collectively contributed almost $5.3 million to Florida candidates and political committees in the 2012 election cycle, helped kill the bill in the House.
"I think it was obviously something that the Senate strongly supported and you can look at the bipartisan votes in favor of it," Sen. Joe Negron, the Stuart Republican who chairs the Senate Appropriations committee.
The high cost of auto tags and related fees is "one of the things I hear about the most from my constituents," Negron said. "Now that our revenues are better, I think we should be looking for opportunities to return some of that money."
In 2009, legislators jacked up auto fees to help plug a multibillion-dollar hole in the state budget. The fee increase was just part of a $2.2 billion package of tax and fee increases.
With an improving economy, however, this year's $74.1 billion budget is about $4 billion more than last year's.
Sam Miller, executive director of the Florida Insurance Council, said he doesn't oppose the fee rollback but disagrees with doing away with the tax credit to pay for it.
Insurance companies pay a state tax on premiums but also get a rebate worth 15 percent of the salary they pay their full-time employees. The incentive was reaffirmed and expanded in 2003.
"I can't tell you precisely what would happen if that went away, but I can tell you it is very, very important," Miller said. "We'll go in with as much information as we can (next year) to say it's still important."