TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Millions of Florida motorists will soon start paying less to register their cars each year — although the savings won't materialize for many drivers until next year.
The Florida Legislature on Thursday approved a $400 million cut in auto registration fees that was a top priority for Gov. Rick Scott this year.
Most motorists in the state will save about $25 a year on registration fees, although the amount will vary based on the size and the weight of the car or truck. The fees were first raised back in 2009 when state legislators were grappling with a large budget gap caused by the downturn in the state's economy.
Scott made the fee rollback a centerpiece of his pitch to legislators to use the state's current budget surplus to cut taxes and fees by more than $500 million.
Scott on Thursday wasted little time in blaming former Gov. Charlie Crist for the fee hike that was also supported by many Republicans at the time. Crist, now a Democrat, is challenging Scott in this year's governor's race.
"This is a tax increase that Charlie Crist passed in 2009," Scott told reporters right after the vote. "The right thing happened tonight to reduce these taxes and put more money back in Floridians hands."
The vote for the fee rollback was unanimous, but that didn't stop Democrats from complaining that Republicans were pushing the cuts for political purposes, or that the savings will amount to "breadcrumbs" for consumers. Many Democrats opposed the fee hikes five years ago.
"It isn't a tax cut, it's a tax return," said Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs. "You see, you took the money away from residents. ... We're doing this because one governor wants to use this issue against the former governor. That's it."
Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, questioned why it took Republicans "so long" to agree to the rollback. He also questioned why the Republican-controlled Legislature didn't roll back all the hikes it enacted five years ago.
Scott countered that he would "love to cut more taxes" if he could.
"Every time we can put more money back in families' hands, it's a good day," Scott said.
The fee rollback will not help those motorists who have to renew their registrations now since it will not take effect until Sept. 1.
Data collected by the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles from last year show nearly 9 million motor vehicles had their registrations renewed from January to August while more than 4 million vehicles were renewed during the final four months of the year. Drivers are required to renew their registration during the month of their birthday, although drivers can also get a two-year renewal.