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Mickey Mouse Auto Tags?

By James Call

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wfsu/local-wfsu-893386.mp3

Tallahassee, FL – Legislation allowing companies to place their corporate logo on Florida license plates as a way to bring in money for the state budget and cut costs for drivers will be debated on the Senate floor Wednesday. The proposal would save an owner of a mid-size car about 46-dollars in fees.

Many members of the Florida Legislature are running for office, and that means members will consider just about anything to avoid raising taxes. Last year, the Legislature raised a variety of motor vehicle fees to balance the state budget. The increase drew complaints when people renewed their tags. This year, both the Governor and Senate President asked Senate Transportation Chairman Mike Fasano to find a way to cut those fees.

"The goal is to see a significant reduction in the annual fee that an auto owner has to pay when they renew their auto tag each year, and it just wouldn't be a one-time reduction. It would be a recurring reduction significantly. It's my understanding that if we do attract any major corporations that want to put their logo on a license plate, the fee that people are paying today, close to 100-dollars, they would see that reduction down to about 30 or 35 dollars on an annual basis."

Florida would be the first state to offer a corporate logo option on license plates. It is unclear how much money the idea would raise because no study has measured the interest of corporations or motorists. The proposal is for a corporation to pay 200-dollars for each logo tag distributed. The vehicle owner would pay an application fee now set at 25-dollars.

Steven Fielder is a lobbyist for the Department of Highway Safety and worked with Fasano on the idea.

"For the record, Mr. Chair, right now I don't have anybody, any corporations who have said I am ready. So just understand, as the chairman has pointed out, this is just an idea that we just are going to try to run with. But clearly we've got to be diligent in how we do this, and I would anticipate that we will go through the rule making process. We are a Cabinet agency, so we will take these issues to the Cabinet, and I would expect that we would exclude, quite frankly, things like alcohol advertisements, tobacco advertisements, those sorts of things."

The idea could generate millions of dollars for the state. Florida reported about 20-million registered vehicles last year. If five-percent of owners opted for a corporate auto tag, the state would reap $200-million in additional fees. The savings to vehicle owners would be tens of millions of dollars. After three legislative sessions where lawmakers slashed Florida's budget by about ten-percent, the corporate tag proposal is among a relatively few revenue raising proposals to make it out of committee.

Senator Chris Smith said, "I think this is a novel idea. I mean, we are in dire financial straits, and we need to come up with new ways to do things, and I I support this bill, and I look forward to working with the department on the rule making because the devil is going to be in the details. But I applaud you for at least thinking outside the box, per se, to help with some revenue and help Floridians."

The Transportation Committee passed the proposal with a unanimous vote. It cleared the Ways and Means Committee with a 20 to 3 vote and was placed on the Senate's special order calendar for a third reading this Wednesday.