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CORRECTION: Auto fee cuts in Negron bill subject to change

CORRECTION: An earlier version misquoted Negron. He didn't say the proposed fee cut would increase.

It’s not recommending as big of a cut in fees as the one proposed by Gov. Rick Scott, but don’t worry about that now, says the sponsor of SB 156, Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart.

The bill, which reduces auto registration fees by an average of $12 per person, was passed unanimously Thursday by the Florida Senate’s committee on transportation, tourism and economic development appropriations. Negron said that average fee reduction will only grow in the coming weeks.

The cuts have drawn wide support in both chambers, and among both Republicans and Democrats as a measure that “returns money to the middle class”. It’s so popular that Gov. Rick Scott is proposing his own reduction plan that’s about double what Negron is offering, a fee decrease of about $25 per person.

Scott’s plan reduces the fees by about $401 million. So far, Negron’s proposed reductions would decrease revenue in Florida’s budget by $185 million in 2014-15, then by $236.7 million in recurring years.

Negron told reporters afterward that the gap between the two proposals is not a serious one and should be bridged once more precise estimates for next year’s budget revenues are released.

"I’m sure we’ll be able to agree on an appropriate amount once we have a better idea of what our revenues are going to be," Negron said.

Although he doesn’t have a determined fee cut amount yet, he said it would be larger might differ from the bill’s current reduction of $12 for the average motorist.

“We’ll be able to work out those details on an appropriate number once we know more about our revenues," Negron said. "So we can sort that out in the upcoming session. We can promise people that the fee decrease will be large and one that they will feel."

The reductions come in fees required to register a motor vehicle, vessel or mobile home, and returns them to the levels prior to Sept. 1, 2009. That year, lawmakers increased taxes and fees $2.2 billion to stave off a budget deficit after the economy collapsed.

Negron’s proposal would cut fees by about half the amount lawmakers raised them in 2009: by $12 per motor vehicle, $2 per vessel, and between $4.50 and $9 to register a mobile home. The fee reductions would go into effect Sept. 1.

Bespeaking its populist appeal, the bill has yet to spark a nay vote.

The cuts in Negron’s bill would reduce a number of nominal fees, including:

-- From $5 to $2.50 the service charge for each application of an original, duplicate or transfer of any license plate, mobile home sticker or validation sticker, including the transfer or duplicate issuance of any registration certificate. The revenue from the reduced service charge would be deposited into the Highway Safety Operating Trust Fund in the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles or retained by county tax collectors.

-- From $3 to $1 the service charge imposed on the issuance of a registration receipt for a vehicle, vessel or mobile home registration. This fee would be retained by the DHSMV.

-- From $1.50 to 50 cents the fee imposed on each motor vehicle registration issued for treating all license plates and validation stickers. This revenue would be retained by the DHSMV.

Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, voted for it on Thursday. But during a meeting on Wednesday, she noted the rather modest savings for residents.

“It’s a small number, I know that,” she said. “It adds up to $12 for an $84 fee.”

The big winners in a bill like this: Those companies with large fleets, which can multiply the savings by the number of cars they have.