Lawmakers are closer to giving Gov. Rick Scott one of his priorities for the 2014 session, an election-year rollback of vehicle-registration fees that were raised under the watch of his potential Democratic challenger.
But while lawmakers should get to Scott's $500 million goal for cutting taxes and fees, they likely will take a different approach on some of the details. Along with rolling back the vehicle-registration fees, lawmakers may look toward an assortment of tax cuts and tax-free shopping periods, rather than approving a Scott request to slash $100 million from taxes on commercial leases.
On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously amended a proposal (SB 156) by Chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart, to reduce the vehicle-registration fees. Under the revised proposal, motorists would potentially save between $20 and $25 per vehicle registration, with the total depending on the size of the vehicle.
The reduction would collectively save motorists about $309 million during the upcoming 2014-15 budget year, with the new rates going into effect Sept. 1.
The savings would grow the following year to about $395 million, when they would be in effect for the full 12 months. State fiscal years start in July.
Scott has called for cutting about $400 million in vehicle-registration fees, eliminating increases signed into law in 2009 by potential Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist, then a Republican occupying the governor's mansion.
Negron called his initial Senate package, which sought first-year savings of $185 million, or about $12 per vehicle, a starting point. And he added that the "governor's been very persuasive on his plan."
The amendment brings the Senate version of the vehicle-fee reduction in line with a House proposal (PCB 14-04), which was unanimously backed Thursday by the House Finance and Tax Subcommittee.
Unlike in the Senate Appropriations Committee meeting, House Democrats offered more critical comments.
Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, said the proposal has become a "political football in many ways."
Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs, said the reduction is simply being done to aid Scott's re-election.
"There is a great line in 'The Wizard of Oz' that I like, 'Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.' I feel like we need to take the curtain down," Moskowitz said.
"The reason we're talking about this is so that we can make this an issue during the campaign," Moskowitz added, "so the current governor running for re-election can attack the former governor on this specific issue."
Finance and Tax Chairman Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, called Moskowitz' comments "misguided" and added that the subcommittee continues to plan a wide range of ideas to reach Scott's goal of reducing $500 million in taxes and fees.
Scott has requested a $100 million reduction in the commercial-lease tax, which now generates about $1.4 billion a year in revenue for the state. But Workman said his approach will be more broad-based.
"The big ones are off the tables, the (communications services tax), the corporate rent tax, because they won't fit in a $100 million package," Workman said. "But we've got things like the corporate-income taxes that are still on the table, all the holidays, the back-to-school holiday, hurricane preparedness holiday, things I can use for the non-recurring portion."
Scott has pitched increasing the corporate income-tax exemption from $50,000 to $75,000, which would reduce general-revenue funds by $21.6 million during the first year and $22.8 million the second year.
Workman added that a proposal by Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam for a sales-tax holiday on energy-efficient appliances is still in the mix.