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Did the state House just impose a new hidden tax on cash-strapped motorists in Florida? No, say lawmakers. Yes, say Florida’s elected tax collectors.

Every session, private agencies that renew car registrations and licenses seek a greater foothold in the nation’s third-largest state, a lucrative market. They succeeded in getting language in a must-pass tax cut package that allows them to charge drivers a new “convenience fee.” (Republicans in Tallahassee don’t like to use the word “tax.”)

The amendment, sponsored by Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, was included in the same bill that includes a cut in the business rent tax, back-to-school sales tax holidays and other forms of tax relief. Read the Brodeur amendment here.

When Rep. Lori Berman and a few other Democrats asked Brodeur why private vendors should be able to charge a fee that tax collectors can’t, Brodeur said it’s for the convenience of motorists who may want to renew their tags on nights and on weekends. He said the amount of the fee would be regulated by the market.

The measure sailed through the House on Wednesday on a 117-0 vote, with liberal Democrats joining conservative Republicans in voting for it. The bill now awaits a final vote in the Senate — which could strip out the controversial language — before sending the bill to Gov. Rick Scott, a strong supporter of tax cuts.


“It’s laughable,” said Pasco County Tax Collector Mike Fasano, a former Republican legislator who opposed the amendment as did a statewide tax collectors’ association. Because Brodeur’s amendment doesn’t specify how much the fee can be, the sky’s the limit: a dollar? $2.50? $10? “You have no idea what they’re going to charge,” Fasano said.

Florida drivers pay tax collectors a fee of $6.25 to renew their tags and a $2.50 fee for the issuance or renewal of a driver’s license. Those fees have not been increased in years, and Fasano, whose agency is $3 million in the hole, says they don’t cover the costs of operations.

What worries tax collectors is the possible proliferation of private tag vendors siphoning away their business and their revenue. Most tax collectors operate exclusively on motorist fees, with no tax revenue.

The House sponsor of the tax cut package, Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, whose county of Manatee has a private tag vendor, said motorists can still renew their tags online or at a tax collector’s office without facing the possibility of a “convenience fee.”

“If you want the convenience of a service like this, you’re welcome to go do it,” Boyd said. “There’s no requirement. The tax collector still has to approve these facilities. There’s no hidden fees because there’s no requirement to use them.”

Fasano said it’s an obvious giveaway to private vendors. “I can’t believe the governor and his staff would let this go through,” he said.

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