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UPDATE: SunPass users to keep their discount

Friday, April 8th, 2011 by Dara Kam

SunPass users can breathe a sigh of relief. Senate President Mike Haridopolos said lawmakers won’t take away the discounts on toll roads, reversing what the Senate did yesterday.

“The discount stays. Period,” Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, told reporters during his weekly Q-and-A this morning.

The Senate had scrapped the SunPass discounts, which vary on different toll roads, as part of its plan to merge some of the state’s turnpike authorities.

Sen. Jim Norman, R-Tampa, tried to amend the bill to keep the discounts intact but Haridopolos ruled on a voice vote that Norman’s amendment lacked the two-thirds majority to pass.

Critics said that doing away with the discounts could be considered a tax increase, a potential no-no for conservative Republicans, including U.S. Senate candidates like Haridopolos.

“That is something where there is a legitimate debate going on. Is that a discount or not? How will that be described?” Haridopolos.

Haridopolos said he told Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander, who backed the proposal because it would add back about $100 million to the transportation budget that could be bonded to create up to $1 billion in road projects, it’s off the table.

Haridopolos changed his mind within 12 hours of the vote yesterday after talking with other senators and “after taking my opinion,” he said.

“As I got more engaged I thought the discount’s a good idea. I think it encourages people to purchase the pass, to use the pass and that helps with traffic flow across the state,” Haridopolos said.

Haridopolos said the debate could make SunPass buyers more aware that they get the discount and the ability to fly through toll plazas.

“I’ve let it be known that we will not be adjusting those. The discounts will stay in place. We think that especially as you commute across the state of Florida the best thing to do is to keep those discounts in place,” he said.

Senate does away with SunPass discount

Thursday, April 7th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Motorists could say bye-bye to the 25 cent savings they typically get when use the SunPass card to speed through Florida toll exchanges.

The Senate approved a bill (SB 2152) merging the state’s turnpike authorities that includes an end to the 5% SunPass discount over the objections of several Republicans.

“We should not raise the fees. Keep our word,” argued Sen. Jim Norman, R-Tampa, who tried to amend the bill to take out the elimination of the discount.

Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander argued that the discount began when SunPass was created to ease back-ups at toll booths. Since then, SunPass users enjoy special lanes they can zip through without even slowing down, Alexander said.

Doing away with the discount would add $100 million to the state’s transportation budget, which translates into $1 billion worth of projects if bonded.

“For me I think that’s worthwhile doing,” Alexander, R-Lake Wales, said.

Norman’s amendment died on a voice vote, and the bill passed by a 28-11 vote.

Should local governments be required to publish notice in print of what they’re doing?

Monday, April 4th, 2011 by Dara Kam

In the digital age, should local governments still be required to use newspapers to get the word out to the public about what they’re doing?

Some conservative lawmakers object that it’s a mandate from Tallahassee and want to do away with it. They say it should be up to the local governments to put the information about zoning changes, meetings or other activities on the Internet.

But others, including former Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp, argued that doing away with the print notices would leave many Floridians, especially senior citizens, in the dark.

“I don’t think this is an optional issue. This is one that goes to the fabric of our society,” Kottkamp told the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee this morning.

Committee Co-chairman Jim Norman pressed him on whether he “believes in the mandate.”

Kottkamp didn’t waiver: “On this issue, absolutely, yes.”

Sen. Maria Sachs, a Delray Beach Democrat, agreed.

“We must never curtail the right of the people to have notice of what their government is doing. Ever. And I don’t care what the cost is,” she said.

Norman, R-Tampa, argued that the costs – in the range of $50 million per year statewide not including the amount collected some affected parties have to pay to cover the printing costs – could be better spent elsewhere.

“This is an attempt at a look at a mandated cost to make it more affordable for them to have health care. you can’t always have it both ways,” Norman, a former county commissioner, said.

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