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State GOP’s road map: $500 million in lower tolls

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By Pat Faherty

Special to the Citizen

Leaders of the Florida Senate and House of Representatives are committed to following through on Gov. Rick Scott’s promise of $500 million in tax cuts. Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, voiced agreement to reduce vehicle registration fees for all Florida drivers.

They support Scott’s concept of eliminating the 2009 annual motor vehicle tax increases, which statewide represents about $400 million. It could save Florida drivers an estimated $25 per vehicle.

The $500 million tax cut is part of what Gaetz and Weatherford called their joint 2014 Work Plan Florida Agenda.

“We have chosen five initiatives we plan to work on together,” Gaetz said. “These are the issues we plan to have an influence on.”

Other categories are: Economic Opportunity Through Education, the Florida GI Bill, Protect Vulnerable Floridians, and Improve Government Accountability and Efficiency.

Weatherford said it’s the second year of a reform agenda that will leave more money for Florida families.

While they emphasized agreement with Scott on the total tax cut, they were only specific on cutting motor vehicle fees.

“We will be asking our colleagues to consider a $500 million tax cut,” Gaetz said. “There are a number of areas we can look at. The governor has mentioned several. Every one of those will be considered.”

Scott’s tax cut is the promotional centerpiece of his proposed 2014-15, $74.2 billion budget.

In addition to vehicle fees, cuts include a sales tax rate reduction for commercial rent, lower filing fees for businesses and increasing the level of income exempt from the business tax.

Gaetz labeled motor vehicle taxes as confiscatory fees that are wrong.

“We intend to roll those fees back as much as we can and consider other forms of tax relief to hit the governor’s goal,” he said.

“We’re with him on tax cuts,” Weatherford said. “And he has a commitment from the House and from the Senate that we’re going to cut $500 million in taxes.

“It probably will be one of the larger tax cuts the state of Florida has had in a very long time and it’s long needed and overdue.”

In response, state Senate Democratic leader Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, did not address specifics of the proposed tax cuts.

“With an election year upon us, we’re expecting lots of ‘feel-good’ proposals from the governor, and the budget he released on Wednesday was no exception,” Smith said. “Four years ago, Rick Scott spent $70 million of his own money to win the election.

“This year, he’s preparing to spend $500 million of Floridians’ tax dollars to do the same thing.”

Nan Rich, seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, was critical of Scott’s record.

However, she agreed there is a good case for rolling back some of the fees increased in 2009.

Contact Pat Faherty at 352-564-2924 or pfaherty@chronicleonline.com.