A Florida House panel voted Friday to phase in a reduction in fees for motorists in the Sunshine State, putting it at odds with a Senate version that calls for a rollback all at once.
The version approved by the House Appropriations Committee calls for a five-year phase-in that eventually would save an individual driver $12 a year on annual registration.
The phased-in approach would begin in July 2014 and the fee reduction would amount to $2.40 in the first year, said Rep. Steve Crisafulli, who presented the amended version. The first-year fee reduction would cost the state about $44 million in revenue, he said. Once fully implemented, the fee reduction would cost the state about $224 million.
The panel's rewrite of the bill (SB 1832) also would preserve a decades-old tax break to insurance companies. Those companies pay a state tax on insurance premiums but also get a rebate worth 15 percent of the salary paid to th eir workers.
The measure that unanimously passed the Senate would eliminate the tax break to make up the lost money for the lower vehicle-registration fees.
House committee members didn't say how the state would make up the money lost from the rollback in motor vehicle fees if the tax break for insurers is retained.
Florida lawmakers have a week left in their 60-day session to try to resolve their differences over how to roll back motor vehicle fee increases that were passed three years ago amid an economic downturn that sharply reduced state revenues.
Crisafulli told reporters Friday that there's a reluctance among House members to burden an expanding insurance industry with additional taxes.
"We believe that taxing job creators is not necessarily the answer to Florida's future," the Merritt Island Republican said.
The Senate version faced opposition from a united front of business and insurance lobbyists, many of them suggesting that get ting rid of a tax break to pay for the rollback could cost the state thousands of insurance-sector jobs.
Rep. Charles McBurney, a Jacksonville Republican, made the same argument during the committee hearing.
"It's better to just cut fees, and that's what we're doing today," he said.
Crisafulli said the phased-in approach would enable the state to retain more revenue that the House wants to put into investments in education and health care.
"I think right now this is something that fits within the framework of our current state economic situation," he said.
State lawmakers increased auto fees in 2009 to help close a multibillion-dollar budget gap, part of a $2.2 billion package of tax and fee increases.
It included a 35 percent increase in annual tag fees, which went up $5 to $11.40, depending on a car's weight. The initial vehicle registration fee went from $100 to $225. And the cost of an initial driver's license increased from $27 to $48 , while a renewal got boosted from $20 to $48.