Senate GOP budget leader opposing Gov. Scott's manufacturing tax cuts

Gov. Rick Scott listens during a meeting of the Florida Cabinet on Thursday, March 7, 2013, at the Capitol in Tallahassee. (AP Photo/Phil Sears)

Gov. Rick Scott listens during a meeting of the Florida Cabinet on Thursday, March 7, 2013, at the Capitol in Tallahassee. (AP Photo/Phil Sears)

State Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart

State Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart

Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, right, is congratulated by Gov. Rick Scott as Negron's sponsored bill on pip insurance passes the senate during session on Friday, March 9, 2012, in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon)

Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, right, is congratulated by Gov. Rick Scott as Negron's sponsored bill on pip insurance passes the senate during session on Friday, March 9, 2012, in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon)

TALLAHASSEE — Sen. Joe Negron isn’t convinced by Gov. Rick Scott’s pitch to cut $115.3 million in taxes on Florida manufacturers.

Instead, the Senate budget chief would prefer giving a break to the state’s drivers, whom lawmakers hit with wide-ranging fee hikes four years ago.

Negron, R-Stuart, said it’s time to reduce the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles fees lawmakers increased in 2009. The Republican Legislature and then- Gov. Charlie Crist approved dozens of fee hikes on driver licenses, registration tags, titles and more. Many fees at least doubled.

“It affects the citizens of Florida in a direct way,” said Negron, who wasn’t in the Legislature in 2009. “The fees were substantially increased at a time when the state revenue picture was challenging, and we’re now moving into a period when it appears state revenue sources will at least be more stable.”

Negron said if the extra budget cash is available, he will push to decrease some car fees. But it’s not likely they can fall back to 2009 levels. First-time registration fees shot up by $125 to $225, title costs went from $24 to $70, new driver licenses increased from $27 to $48 and license renewals more than doubled to $48.

Amid a $6 billion budget shortfall, the 2009 Senate passed the fee hikes unanimously.

Negron said his main focus is on making license plate tags cheaper, which increased in 2009 and vary by vehicle weight. Considering all surcharges, a four-door sedan that used to cost $45 for its tags costs about $71 now with the price hike.

The state brings in about $1 billion annually in tag fees and surcharges. Negron said that’s about $323 million more state revenue each year since the 2009 fee hikes.

Lifting that burden on drivers is a more pressing need than helping manufacturers, Negron said.

“It’s (about) $120 million, and are manufacturers beating down our doors, saying that this is absolutely necessary for them to either stay in Florida or expand in Florida? No,” Negron said. “There may be other, better uses for tax breaks.”

Along with teacher raises, Scott has made eliminating a tax on manufacturers one of two top priorities this legislative session. Currently, manufacturers have to prove they’re increasing their output by at least 5 percent to get a sales tax exemption.

Florida Commerce Secretary Gray Swoope told a group of community leaders last week that manufacturing is becoming more technology-based, rather than focused on the labor costs that pushed many operations overseas. That’s where Florida — where manufacturing jobs make up 4.3 percent of its employment base — can capitalize, he said.

“We look at our state, and we say, ‘Look, for what the new manufacturing looks like that takes a skills set of technicians, engineering, you’re talking about companies that invest hundreds of millions to do these products,’” Swoope said.

It’s the third big policy position where Negron has clashed with the governor’s priorities. Scott wants to set aside $480 million to give each public schoolteacher a $2,500 pay raise. Negron prefers any raises be based off teachers’ job performance as school boards see fit.

Scott also endorsed the expansion of Medicaid under President Obama’s health-care law. Negron, and the Affordable Care Act committee he chairs, decided last week to reject the expansion and try to use the same federal money for a different plan providing private insurance to more citizens who don’t qualify for Medicaid.

Negron’s plan to reduce the DMV fees would need to resonate with House leaders, and survive Scott’s veto pen. Lawmakers have $3.5 billion more to spend on this budget than the last, according to state revenue projections. Legislative leaders cautioned that across-the-board federal cuts could still hinder Florida’s recovery.

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