TALLAHASSEE — Republican Gov. Rick Scott blamed predecessor Charlie Crist for raising motor vehicle registration fees before signing a bill Wednesday to lower them.
Florida voters can get used to hearing that over and over again between now and November — just as Scott repeatedly made the point during the bill signing ceremony — now that then-Republican Crist is seeking his old job as a Democrat.
“Why are we here? We’re here because in 2009 Charlie Crist raised this tax. We’re going to right the wrong of this 2009 tax increase that Charlie Crist enacted,” Scott said.
He repeated that sentiment as he picked up a Sharpie and signed the bill to cut motor vehicle fees and again during a press conference that followed.
State Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, sponsored SB 156 to return vehicle, vessel and mobile home registration fees to pre-2009 levels.
The bill will save the typical car owner about $25 a year, but it won’t help them until after Sept. 1. Tax collectors are being encouraged until then to let car owners know that they should opt for a one-year registration renewal instead of a two-year-renewal if they want to benefit from the cut next year.
“What I like the most about this proposal is that reduction will actually go to families that wake up everyday and take their kids to school,” Negron has said. “The government has a bad habit of adding on fees and rules and once on the books they never come off the books. ... We are in a position where we can return almost $400 million back to families.”
What Scott didn’t say is that most of the Republican leaders surrounding him as he signed the bill voted to increase the fees before Crist signed them into law. That includes Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz.
The increases came at the height of the recession when lawmakers were struggling to prevent slashing programs as state revenue continued dropping. At the time, Republicans said the increases were necessary. On Wednesday, Lopez-Cantera and Gaetz said Crist forced them to do it.
“It was presented as the only thing to do at the time,” said Gaetz, R-Niceville. “What a difference leadership makes. Charlie Crist said the only thing you can do is raise taxes.”
While Crist’s initial budget proposal included increases in motor vehicle fees, the Legislature ultimately gave him a budget with much higher increases.
Still, Lopez-Cantera also blamed Crist.
“If Gov. Scott had been there in 2009 we wouldn’t be here today with this issue,” said Lopez-Cantera, who was not present for the final 2009 floor vote that approved the increases but added his yes vote to the record after the matter had been decided.
So what would have happened if Crist had rejected the increases?
“We were told by the governor’s office that we would be closing the doors of schools and hospitals across the state if we didn’t do what we were asked to do,” Gaetz said.
Crist issued a statement through a spokesman praising the cut.
“It’s about time! When these fees were passed by Rick Scott’s colleagues and signed into law they were never meant to be permanent,” Crist said. “I’m surprised it’s taken this long for Governor Scott to realize that it’s time to roll these fees back — better late than never.”