TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida lawmakers may roll back sharp increases in fees for driver’s licenses and auto tags that the state adopted three years ago to close a large budget gap.
A top Senate Republican said Thursday that he will unveil a bill next week that would cut in half the fees now charged to motorists.
Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart and Senate budget chief, said he will propose wiping out an existing tax break for insurers doing business in the state in order to cover the cost. That tax break is worth $237 million, according to state economists.
“My priority is to get money to our constituents and not subsidize an industry that is doing very well,” Negron said.
State legislators confronting a multi-billion dollar shortfall in 2009 increased fees to renew car tags and licenses as part of a $2.2 billion package of tax and fee hikes. Lawmakers also increased the state’s cigarette tax that year.
Just about every motor vehicle fee was raised. The hikes included a 35 percent increase in annual tag fees, which went up $5 to $11.40, depending on a car’s weight. The initial vehicle registration fee more than doubled, from $100 to $225. The cost of an initial driver’s license went up from $27 to $48 and a renewal increased from $20 to $48.
Top Senate Republicans agreed with Negron that it is time to cut the fees.
“During a difficult budget year, the Legislature made the hard choice to increase certain fees associated with driving a vehicle in lieu of raising taxes, or taking draconian cuts to critical state services,” Senate President Don Gaetz said in a statement. “However, times have changed and it is time that we reprioritize and evaluate ways to keep more money in the pockets of hard working Floridians.”
House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, called the Senate proposal an “interesting idea.”
“I’m not a big fan of those tag and title fees either,” Weatherford said.
This marks the second tax break that the Senate has targeted for potential elimination. Insurance companies pay a state tax on insurance premiums, but they also get a credit equal to 15 percent of the salary paid to company employees.
The Senate is also proposing to eliminate a tax break for banks to help pay for economic incentives that would be used to renovate Sun Life Stadium in South Florida.
Negron has defended the potential elimination of incentives or tax breaks, saying the Legislature needs to eliminate outdated incentives before adopting new ones. The problem for Republicans is any vote to eliminate a tax break could bring criticism that they are actually raising taxes.
Weatherford would not comment directly on the idea of eliminating an existing incentive to pay for a new one, but he agreed there is a “big conversation” going on in the Legislature regarding the effectiveness of some of them.
One company that received incentives — Digital Domain — filed for bankruptcy and shuttered its facility in Florida last year after getting $20 million from the state. Two other companies that got help have also declared bankruptcy; the state is demanding the return of money from other companies that did not fulfill promised jobs.
Associated Press Writer James L. Rosica contributed to this story.
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