Motorist fee cut by Gov. Rick Scott freighted with election-year politics
In an event with overtones of a campaign pep-rally, Rick Scott signed into law Wednesday legislation rolling back motorist fees by almost $400 million, reversing a 2009 increase the governor tied to his predecessor and likely re-election opponent, Charlie Crist.
Scott, who made the fee-cut the top item on his wish list to lawmakers this spring, blamed Crist for the “tax increase” and said the bill would “right the wrong” of the hike.
The legislation will save motorists between $20 and $25, depending on the size of their vehicles. The fee hikes were signed into law by Crist in 2009, part of a $2.2 billion package of tax and fee increases designed to plug holes in a recession-strapped state budget.
Joining Scott at the bill-signing were House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and leaders of three statewide business associations, whose statements all pivoted around crediting the governor for re-igniting the state’s economy.
While all found a way to condemn the fee hike, most critics have a checkered history with the boost. Scott’s own lieutenant governor, Carlos Lopez-Cantera, was a House member who, like all but one Republican member of the Legislature, voted for the tax-and-fee increases that year. But on Wednesday, he called it “just another burden approved by the previous administration.”
Senate Democrats in 2009 supported the fee increase, but seven — including Nan Rich, Crist’s rival for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination — later voted against the budget. All 43 House Democrats that year voted against the fee increase.
“It’s about time,” Crist said of Scott’s bill-signing. “When these fees were passed by Rick Scott’s colleagues and signed into law they were never meant to be permanent. I’m surprised it’s taken this long for Governor Scott to realize that it’s time to roll these fees back – better late than never.”
Scott, though, defended his timing.
“We’ve been turning around our economy,” Scott said. “Look at the investments we’ve made in education: A billion-dollars two years in a row, we gave the teachers an opportunity for a pay raise last year, and we continue to fund education this year…look at the money we’re putting into the environment….transportation. This state is heading in the right direction. There’s still more work to do every day.”
The legislation (CS/SB 156) reduces many of the myriad of fees Floridians face when registering a vehicle or motor home, or seek duplicate documents or transfers. The changes would take effect Sept. 1, and would remove $309 million from the state treasury next year and $395 million-a-year after that.