Some, not all, Florida motor vehicle fees could return to pre-recession levels


By William Patrick | William Patrick

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — When it comes to government taxes and fees, it’s no secret that what goes up rarely comes down.

ROLLBACK: Florida drivers could see a significant reduction in vehicle registration fees. Other pre-recession motorist fee increases might be here to stay.

But if you have a vehicle registered in Florida, a little bit of relief could be on the way. But is it enough?

A bill moving through the Florida Senate could roll back some, not all, of the motor vehicle fee increases instituted during the closing years of Gov. Charlie Crist‘s administration.

If passed, consider it a partial victory.

As the economy went into the tank in 2009, state lawmakers went hunting for cash. They found hundreds of millions in revenue by increasing the cost of driving in Florida. Vehicle registration fees, drivers’ license fees, title and driver records fees all spiked to give lawmakers the ability to spend without raising taxes.

“Now that our economy is recovering, it’s a good idea to look at some of those fee increases and see if we can roll some of them back,” bill sponsor Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stewart, said Thursday in a transportation subcommittee.

Motorist fees added to the growth of state spending every year since the recession, culminating in this year’s $75 billion budget — the largest in state history. Anticipated revenue for this fiscal year is running about $1-billion ahead of expectation.

One motorist advocate is skeptical of the entire process.

“Public policy makers have for a long time looked at drivers as a cash cow,” John Bowman, communications director for the National Motorists Association, told “People don’t really pay attention to fees. And what are they going to do about it anyway. They’d have to go up against the Department of Transportation and they’d never win.”

Lisette Mariner, executive director of the Florida Independent Automobile Dealers Association, told that the registration fee increases have hurt businesses.

Not only has it cost businesses more to operate business fleets, but the cost of buying vehicles also has increased, she said.

“If you look at the population of independent dealers, or used car dealers, a lot of people who go to our dealers put very little money down,” said Mariner. “In some cases it’s costing an additional $500 to register a vehicle, that’s another down payment.”

Data forwarded to by the state Senate show rolling back the registration fees to pre-2009 levels would cut direct costs to Florida motorists by an estimated $237 million a year.

If the initial registration fee when buying a vehicle was scaled back to its former rate, Floridians would save another $117 million, or $125 per car or truck.

When asked if cost increases to drivers’ licenses, titles, identification cards and drivers’ records also would be reduced, Senate spokeswoman Katherine Betta said lawmakers are open to building on the bill that’s already in the works. No additional legislation has been filed, however.

Most of the registration fee increases from 2009, which doubled the rates, were put into the state’s general revenue fund.

“Who knows where it goes after that,” Bowman said.

“If you’re going to increase the financial burden on motorists simply for the privilege to drive, then it’s at least a reasonable expectation that those fees should benefit drivers,” he said.

According to a bill analysis and fiscal impact statement, only a third of the annual registration fees went directly to transportation.

The fee reduction bill passed unanimously Thursday and will next appear in a Senate Appropriations Committee. Gov. Rick Scott has endorsed the measure.

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