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Motor vehicle fee cut on fast track, could bolster Scott in election year

Session doesn’t start for another five months, but there’s a pretty good candidate for most popular bill.

It could be SB 156, sponsored by Senate Appropriations Chair Joe Negron, R-Stuart. It reduces certain annual fees to register a motor vehicle, costing state coffers about $233 million a year.

It passed the Senate’s Transportation Committee on Wednesday by a 9-0 vote that bespeaks its bipartisan support.

“This is true tax reform for the people we represent,” said Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, who is also a co-sponsor of the bill.

Remember, next year is an election year. So lawmakers like any bill that suggests they are looking out for middle class voters.

Better yet, the bill could be used to burnish Gov. Rick Scott’s image, especially when his opponent is likely going to be former Gov. Charlie Crist.

Crist was governor in 2009 when, faced with a tanking economy, lawmakers were hunting for new revenue. They found it by increasing motor vehicle fees. In his first year in office, Scott asked lawmakers to roll back those fee increases, but lawmakers declined. If the bill sails through the Legislature, the bill gives Scott an easy photo op that will cast him, and not Crist, as the governor of the people.

So far, Scott has only stated he wants $500 million in cuts in taxes and fees. He has yet to identify a specific cut or fee.


Negron, so far, isn't playing party politics. He says the bill recognizes that lawmakers at the time needed revenue. Now that the economy is recovering, he said it’s an opportunity to eliminate something that’s no longer needed. It burnishes his image as a pragmatic budget wonk intent on reining in big government.

“When the vehicle registration was dramatically increased, that was to keep the lights on in the Capitol, to keep state government running,” Negron told reporters last month. “But government has a bad habit when a fee is increased that, even when the economy gets better, they just keep stacking up on the books and government doesn’t very often go back and then return money.”

Negron pushed for the same cut in fees this year only to see the bill die. It eliminated a 15 percent tax credit for the insurance industry that was created in 1987 and was called outdated by Negron.

Negron’s new bill appropriates only general revenue for the cut. Last month he told reporters that he wants to explore eliminating tax incentive programs that have “outlived their usefulness” to help pay for it. He said there are dozens of tax incentives that they'll be looking at.

The bill certainly seems popular so far. On Tuesday, Negron spoke with the Senate Democratic Caucus, where it was warmly received. A companion bill is sponsored by Rep. Mike Hill, R-Pensacola Beach in the House, where it’s expected to be supported enthusiastically by leaders in that chamber.

While $230 million may sound like a substantial cut in fees, the savings are pretty minimal for the average Florida resident. Businesses that have fleets of vehicles, such as rental car companies, will likely be the big winners. Specifically, the bill would:

-- Reduce fees for issuance of original, duplicate or transfer license plates, mobile home or validation stickers or transfer or duplicate registration certificates from $5 to $2.50.

-- Reduce a service charge from $3 to $1 when an automated vending facility or printer dispenser machine is used to issue a license plate sticker, vessel decal, and mobile home sticker.

-- Reduce the fee for motor vehicle registration or registration renewal license plates and validation stickers for retroflection material from $1.50 to 50 cents.

-- Reduce the surcharge on the license tax from $4 to $2.

-- Reduce the juvenile programs surcharge on license tax from $5.50 to $1.