TALLAHASSEE — A $400 million break on registration fees for Florida's motorists is rushing through the state Legislature and could soon wind up on the desk of Gov. Rick Scott.
But don't count on spending that money just yet.
The Florida Senate on Tuesday unanimously approved the measure that should lower the annual registration fees for most car and truck drivers by about $25. The charges were first raised five years ago when state legislators were grappling with a large budget gap caused by the downturn in the state's economy.
"It's a way to get broad based tax and fee relief to the people," said Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart and the sponsor of the fee rollback. "The government has a bad habit of adding on fees and rules and once they are on the books they never come off."
The Florida House could pass the bill (SB 156) later this week. But the lower fees, however, won't kick in until this September, meaning that drivers who renew their cars now will have to wait until 2015 before benefiting from the rollback.
Data collected by the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles from last year show 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.
Julie Jones, executive director of the department, said the state needs time to reprogram its systems to reflect the lower fees. She said the state usually sends out renewal information to local tax collectors two to three months before the due date.
Jones urged motorists to renew their tags now if they are due.
"I think you need to have situational awareness when your tag can be renewed," Jones said. "If you have a September date I would not renew early."
The push to cut the registration fees is a top priority for Gov. Scott who is caught in a tough re-election fight this fall. He said Tuesday he was just glad that legislators are getting behind the bill.
State legislators have pledged to cut taxes and fees by roughly $500 million this year.
They are considering other types of tax breaks, including sales tax holidays for back-to-school supplies and hurricane supplies.