State Politics

Plate fee hike annoys residents

PALMETTO — Daniel E. Davis, a retiree from the Parrish area, had a simple question for state Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg:

Why did state legislators jack up the price of a license plate?

“If you look, your license plate fee is doubling,” said Davis, who was among a dozen or so citizens attending a town hall meeting Wednesday night at Palmetto Youth Center.

Davis noted there had been a great hue and cry about reducing property taxes, but such a steep increase in the cost of license tags and drivers’ licenses seemed to offset any tax savings.

“It’s still money out of my pocket,” he complained.

Rouson, part of whose district dips into Manatee County, was ready.

“Vote the scoundrels out,” he told Davis. “I can give you the name of every legislator who voted for this.”

Rouson went on to say that Democrats do not control the Florida Legislature, and in the House where he serves, Republicans outnumber Democrats 76-44.

Rouson voted against raising license plate fees because it hurts ordinary citizens, he said. But he said he could do little in a state House so dominated by Republicans, who favored the increases.

“I was a little naive about how extreme the partisanship can be,” he acknowledged.

Manatee County Commission Chairman Gwendolyn Brown asked why state officials will not seriously look at some way to bring in more revenue.

Rouson was ready again.

“We left $434 million in stimulus dollars on the table,” he said, referring to federal money that would have helped the unemployed. “It’s a policy of the Republican leaders.”

Another topic he addressed was the dearth of summer jobs for young people, which Rouson concluded is a problem that citizens and private firms can handle more effectively and quicker than government.

“We got to get these kids working,” he said.

Rouson hoped that during next year’s session, he can persuade fellow legislators to pass a surtax on marijuana and crack pipes and other drug paraphenalia.

“We’ve taxed everything we could tax, but I couldn’t get them to tax marijuana pipes,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, said in a recent House floor address that he had heard from 300 constituents at a similar town hall meeting.

“A common theme at the forum was that the government should not nationalize health care,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, is planning a “telephone town hall,” and is participating in a town hall meeting organized by a union that supports a public health care option, said spokeswoman Ellen Gedalius. She called the telephone town halls ”a good way to reach a lot of people at once.”

The last one attracted 4,500 people, Gedalius said. “I don’t know the last time we could get 4,500 people in a library or community center.”

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 708-7908 or at