Senate seeks to roll back auto tag fees at insurers' expense
The Senate Appropriations Committee voted Thursday to roll back some of the controversial increases in car and truck registration fees in 2009. But this potential win for motorists would come at the expense of the powerful insurance industry, one of the Capitol's most influential lobbies.
By a 19-0 vote, the committee approved a bill (SB 7132) by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, the chamber's lead budget-writer, to repeal a 1987 law that gives a 15 percent tax credit on the salaries insurance companies pay to their full-time employees (excluding agents). The estimated $220 million in new revenue would scale back some of the tag fee increases imposed in 2009 -- and signed into law by Gov. Charlie Crist -- to balance the state budget.
The House has not yet advanced a similar bill, but the tag-free rollback is an obvious priority of the Senate Republican leadership.
A parade of insurance industry lobbyists cited the job-creation benefits of the tax break and they pleaded with lawmakers to leave the tax benefit intact. Witnesses included venerable lobbyist Paul Sanford, who cited 44,000 industry jobs added since 2008. Lobbyist Mike Hightower of Florida Blue, who's a major Republican fund-raiser, said the tax break would help offset the new federal taxes under Obamacare.
But after listening to the testimony, even pro-business Republican senators said the 26-year-old tax break needs to be reviewed.
"I love my friends in the insurance industry, but this is a conversation we need to have," said Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine. "I hope my friends in the indurance industry will come back with some ideas for us. Let's not just say no."
Negron first floated the proposal last week, and it caught the insurance industry flatfooted, as several lobbyists acknowledged in their testimony Thursday. They missed a golden opportunity to rattle off a list of claims centers located in specific senators' districts, which might have tempered some senators' enthusiasm.