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The $840 million House 'tax' hike

Florida House leaders sure are against raising taxes. So they're calling them "fees" instead.

Consider the $837.9m "fee" increases unveiled Thursday by the House Tourism and Economic Development Appropriations Committee. The increases hit drivers everywhere, from boosting driver licenses to tacking on a "rental car surcharge." Even the "reflectorization fee" for license plates is going up by $1.50.

So are these fees or taxes?

"You can look at it anyway you want," said Plant City Republican Rep. Rich Glorioso, who chairs the TED committee. "We don't have a lot of choices. When you realize that, when you raise tag fees... that money is going to education and medical. It's going to take care of somebody who needs those types of services. Will I like it? Absolutely not. But I know I have to do it. It's the right thing to do."

Glorioso also points out that many of the fees haven't been raised in more than a decade. Of the $840m, $726m is heading to the general-revenue budget. That's about double what the Senate (which is less concerned about the tax debate than the House) proposed.

Some TED members were a little nervous about the increases. Jacksonville Republican Rep. Jennifer Carroll said renting a car in Jacksonville is expensive enough without a surcharge. Spring Hill Republican Rep. Rob Schenck suggested that lawmakers find $100 million in additional cuts to block the need for a surcharge increase.

Grover Norquist, founder of Americans for Tax Reform, said the tax-fee distinction is pretty simple: Fees pay for a specific service (so driver license fees keep DL offices open, etc.). But taxes pay for generally everything. What happens when a government fee on a service pays for a variety of other services?

"Then it's a tax," Norquist said. (Note: this was during a February interview re: calling a cigarette tax a "user fee for smokers.")