Daniel Tilson: Will Scott and GOP legislators drive voters to distraction?

Vroom, vrooom! That’s the sound of Gov. Rick Scott and fellow Florida GOP candidates revving their engines in hopes that cuts to motor vehicle fees can help drive them to victory in 2014.

Question is, will reduced registration, tag and license fees make you forget the ways Scott and Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) legislators have favored the state’s wealthiest residents and most profitable corporations at the expense of the middle class?

Scott’s announcement last week that he wants almost twice as much in fee reductions as Senate Republicans is his way of doubling up on efforts to frame likely and formidable general election opponent Charlie Crist as a failure at handling the Florida economy when he was governor from 2007-2011.

We’ve already seen the Scott strategy of positively framing himself as gubernatorial job-creator, while not so subtly framing Crist as a job-loser if not outright killer.

Now comes Part 2 of the strategy, a 2014 version of old-fashioned “put a chicken in every pot” patronage, in the form of reducing the highly unpopular billion-dollar hike in motorist fees that Crist signed into law in 2009.

With a GOP Senate bill already filed seeking a $240 million reduction and Scott announcing he wants a $400 million cut, there’ll of course be a settlement somewhere near the middle, with varying degrees of credit taken all around for being working-class heroes and champions of fiscal responsibility.

They won’t mention that they crafted and every single Republican in the Legislature except one (Rep. Dorothy Hukill) voted for the 2009 increase.

In all fairness, so did every Senate Democrat, boxed into a corner by big budget deficits and GOP unwillingness to raise revenues through higher taxes and tougher enforcement for Florida’s richest residents and businesses.

But not a single Democrat in the House voted for the measure.

The fee cuts now, mind you, are a good idea and will get Democratic support in the Legislature, especially since the state projects a billion-dollar budget surplus in 2014.

Problem is, the surplus exists only because public education and all manner of public services and programs have been cut to the bone by the RPOF in recent years, while a demonstrably unfair tax system built and maintained to benefit the rich and powerful remains largely untouched.

With no personal income tax or estate tax and a low, largely evaded corporate tax, the “record tax revenues” you’ll hear Scott and others crow about in 2014 come overwhelmingly from sales taxes that hurt the middle class and working poor the hardest.

Meanwhile, Florida’s richest 1 percent of residents pay only about 2 percent of their income in taxes, while the bottom 20 percent pay close to 15 percent.

From Scott on down, incumbent Republicans don’t want you knowing facts like those; or trust you’ll overlook them in the flush of gratitude you feel about the $10 to $15 a year they’re going to save you in motor vehicle fees.

Just as with some increased funding for public schools after five years and billions in cuts, the RPOF is playing a twisted game of “Bad Cop-Good Cop” with motorist fees, hoping desperately to have it both ways.

It’s altogether unsurprising, but still disingenuous and disrespectful of middle-class voters’ intelligence, to try revising and rewriting their tried and truly anti-middle class history in the upcoming election year.

It’s up to the Florida Democratic Party and tough-minded voters of all persuasions who are sick of being played for fools to make them pay for that arrogance at the polls.

Daniel Tilson


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