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House panel rejects Senate's repeal of insurance tax break

The legislative plot thickened Friday.

At a brief, scripted meeting, the House Appropriations Committee flatly rejected the Senate's call to repeal an insurance industry tax break and give motorists a break by immediately rolling back car and truck tag fees by $220 million. The vote was 26-0. Insurance industry lobbyists showed up in force, but they didn't have to plead their case to save a payroll tax credit that has benefited the industry by more than $3 billion since it went on the books in 1987.

Instead, the House plan leaves the tax break intact and gradually rolls back car and truck registration fees over a five-year period starting in 2014 -- a year later than the Senate wants -- with the fee reductions coming from state general revenue. Motorists would see a $2.40 cut in tag fees next year, not a $12 reduction that the Senate wants.

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Without hearing any testimony, House Republicans accepted the industry line that the tax credit has helped it attract jobs to the state.

"It's never a great idea to exchange jobs for cutting fees. It's better to just cut fees," said Rep. Charles McBurney, R-Jacksonville.

The hearing was attended by a large group of insurance industry lobbyists who quietly waived their chance to testify and said they supported the House's alternative, which was presented by Rep. Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, who said "taxing job creators" is never good policy in the state.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said he was disappointed by the House vote. "There simply isn't any justification to continue to write a check for a quarter of a billion dollars to help the insurance industry meet payroll," said Negron, who called the tax credit a "lifetime annuity."

"But we'll keep talking to our friends in the House," Negron added. Asked if the House's willingness to repeal the tax credit is tied to other late-session issues, such as the Senate's consideration of the House plan to change state workers' pension plans, Negron said: "At this stage, everything is related to everything."