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Senate committee approves auto fee rollback but House future uncertain

Senate President Don Gaetz, R- Niceville, backs the bill.

Senate President Don Gaetz, R- Niceville, backs the bill.

TALLAHASSEE — A bill rolling back motor vehicle registration fees is headed to the Senate floor despite facing an uncertain future in the House.

The measure, SB 1832, easily cleared the Senate Appropriations Committee, the only committee the bill was sent to by Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville. After the vote on Thursday, Gaetz issued a statement making it clear he wants the bill to pass.

"Not only will this bill rid our state of an antiquated government subsidy for the insurance industry, but, more importantly, it will keep money in the pockets of our hard-working taxpayers," Gaetz said. "I am glad to see the proposal, which will reduce vehicle registration for every Floridian who drives a car, move to the Senate floor."

The bill would reduce the annual cost to register a motor vehicle by $12. Those fees were increased in the 2009 session as part of a deal to close a budget gap; Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said the new bill would roll back the four-year-old hike by 55 percent.

In return, insurance companies would lose a premium tax credit of up to 15 percent of the salaries they pay to Florida-based employees. Doing away with the tax credit will raise about $231 million a year, according to the committee's estimates, which will cover the projected $224 million cost of rolling back the fees.

But the bill faces strong resistance from the insurance industry and business groups. Associated Industries of Florida has started airing a television ad calling the insurance credit "the Working Tax Cut" and urging senators to vote against it.

House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, told reporters late Wednesday that the bill would need to be assigned to a committee because there isn't a counterpart in the House. Few committees are scheduled to meet again in the legislative session, which is set to last for about two more weeks, but Weatherford noted he could call a meeting if he needed to.

Supporters of the credit said it could cost the state jobs, though they concede that taxes are just one aspect of a company's decision when it comes to where to locate call centers and other offices.

"The bigger factor may be the negative message that the elimination of the salary credit will send to insurers and other businesses considering a move to Florida or some other state," said Paul Sanford, a lobbyist for the Florida Insurance Council.

Sen. Garrett Richter, the Naples Republican who was the only vote against the bill, also backed the notion that the bill could set the state back as it continues to recover from the Great Recession.

"We must create more jobs, and eliminating job incentives is not the way to accomplish that priority," he said.

But other Republicans said the state had already done quite a bit to help insurance companies, including overhauling the state's medical malpractice laws in recent years.

"I will continue to do everything I can to have a viable insurance industry in the state of Florida," said Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine.

Senate committee approves auto fee rollback but House future uncertain 04/18/13 [Last modified: Thursday, April 18, 2013 8:09pm]
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