State Politics

Senate panel OKs corporate logos on license plates

TALLAHASSEE — Motorists would get a $6 reduction in their annual license plate fees and a chance to save much more by opting for tags emblazoned with corporate logos under legislation that cleared a Senate committee Friday.

Lawmakers last year raised a variety of motor vehicle fees designed to bring in $800 million and help balance an austere state budget. The increases, though, have drawn complaints from constituents.

Senate Transportation and Economic Development Appropriations Committee Chairman Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said Senate President Jeff Atwater and Gov. Charlie Crist had asked him to find a way to cut the fees.

Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, is running for chief financial officer and Crist is seeking the Republican U.S. Senate nomination, but Fasano denied election-year politics are driving the fee reduction and logo tag measures.

“We increased the fees significantly last year on people who couldn’t afford it,” Fasano said.

Motorists pay several different fees when they renew their tags every year, or two years if they choose, including one based on vehicle weight. The overall increase for a typical mid-size sedan was about $25 for a total of $71.85 a year. All motorists, though, would get the same $6 reduction regardless of vehicle weight.

That will cost the state $104 million a year although the savings for each motorist would be relatively modest.

“It’s better than nothing, isn’t it?” Fasano said after the meeting. “When you don’t have a job and you’re trying to afford putting some food on the table ... a reduction of $6 might just be able to give you that opportunity to renew your tag.”

Florida would be the first state to offer a corporate logo option. A business would pay $200 for each logo tag, said Steven Fielder, lobbyist for the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Part of that money would cover the fees ordinarily paid by the vehicle’s owner, who instead would pay an application fee of no more than $25.

“There is an excess and, yes, that is where the state could, if this program works, realize some revenue,” Fielder said.

No estimates yet have been made of how much that might be. It would depend on how many corporations are willing to pay the price and how many motorists choose their tags. They would be available only for private, not commercial, vehicles.

Martin Boire, chairman of Support Our Troops, was worried that offering such a low-cost plate would cut into the sales of more than 100 specialty tags that benefit nonprofit organizations such as his Daytona Beach-based group. In most cases motorists pay an extra $25 every year for the tag and that money goes to the sponsoring organizations.

“Our goal here is to try and reduce the cost of an annual renewal,” Fasano replied. “I would encourage everyone to select a specialty tag of their liking because those dollars do go for good causes.”