Near-universal praise for Rick Scott vehicle-registration bill signing

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Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill today that will save Florida drivers almost $400 million on annual vehicle registration fees starting September 1.

Signing Senate Bill 156 completes one of the governor’s chief legislative goals for 2014, saving taxpayers money by cutting rate hikes instituted in 2009 by the GOP-led legislature, and signed by then-Gov. Charlie Crist.

“Last winter, we announced our intent to return $500 million to Floridians by cutting taxes. Today, we are rolling back many of the 2009 tax increases on annual motor vehicle registrations,” Scott said in a prepared statement. “This will result in an annual savings of $25 per typical motor vehicle and will let families keep nearly $400 million of their hard-earned money in their own pockets because it’s their money.”

Senate President Don Gaetz, House Speaker Will Weatherford, and other members of Florida Legislature who heavily supported the bill joined Scott in the signing ceremony held at the Cabinet meeting room in the Capitol.

Gaetz said that vehicle fees were a priority “from day one of the 2014 Legislative Session,” and that the bill was a “centerpiece of meaningful tax relief for Florida’s families.”

Weatherford, another strong advocate reduced taxes, called the governor a “leader on keeping taxes low for Florida’s families.”

Sen. Joe Negron, sponsor of SB 156 called it “great news” for taxpayers, since it will be “putting money back into the pockets” of Floridians.

“Governor Scott has provided great leadership on reducing taxes and improving Florida’s job creation climate,” said House Majority Leader Steve Crisafulli, adding that SB 156 was the largest tax and fee reduction of its kind in “over a decade.”

Rep. Ritch Workman chair of the House Finance and Tax Subcommittee, added that the lower registration fees “help make owning a car more affordable for everyone.”

Pro-business groups also applauded the rollbacks.

Florida Chamber of Commerce President Mark Wilson said the bill is perfect for the state’s competitiveness, and lower fees on “job creators” is an economic driver.

“No new taxes or fees mean more freedom for Floridians and small businesses, and more economic growth for Florida,” Wilson said. “Governor Scott’s tax relief efforts will put money back into the pockets of Floridians and small businesses, and further help Florida to become more competitive.”

Associated Industries of Florida issued a statement praising both Scott and Negron for “championing good public policy.”

“Not only will this $395 million reduction deliver relief to Florida businesses and their families by putting more money back in their pockets, it translates to job creation and incentives,” said AIF President Tom Feeney.

With bi-partisan support, vehicle fee reductions are an excellent start, according to government watchdog group Florida TaxWatch. However, they say Scott and the Legislature have more to do to get the “broad tax relief” goal of $500 million, particularly by cutting other user fees.

“While the Legislature should be applauded for working together to pass these savings on to Florida taxpayers,” said TaxWatch CEO Dominic Calabro, who encourages them to “meet Governor Scott’s $500 million tax cut goal with additional broad-based tax relief options, such as reducing the extremely high Communications Services Tax.”

Although there was near universal praise for the details of the bill, not everyone was pleased with the signing ceremony; especially those viewed it as closer to a re-election campaign stunt.

Former Gov. Charlie Crist, Democratic candidate for his old job, called the bill signing ceremony “ridiculous.” Scott mentioned Crist several times in the after-signing comments, making it clear that he blames his predecessor for the 2009 hikes made during Crist’s watch.

Crist, now a Democrat, was Republican governor at the time.

“We’re here because in 2009, Charlie Crist raised this tax,” Scott said. “We are going to right the wrong of this 2009 tax increase that Charlie Crist enacted.”

But Crist was not having any of that. While he was pleased with the reductions overall, representatives of the past Florida leader issued a statement pointing out that Scott had 45  months – more than 90 percent of his term — to do anything about vehicle registration fees.

That was twice as long as Crist faced the higher fees.

“It’s about time! When these fees were passed by Rick Scott’s colleagues and signed into law, they were never meant to be permanent,” Crist said.

“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.”

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.