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Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill that will cut auto tag fees and pointed the finger at his predecessor for raising them in the first place.
"We are going to right the wrong of the 2009 tax increase that Charlie Crist enacted," Scott said as he signed the fee rollback on April 2.
Scott, a Republican, is expected to face Democratic frontrunner Crist in November.
We’ll examine what type of taxes were raised under Crist in 2009 and what he has said about raising taxes in the future.
Crist signed tax and fee increases in 2009
In May 2009, then-Republican Gov. Crist signed a $66.5 billion budget that included a slew of new taxes and fees -- roughly $2 billion worth -- intended to balance the state budget during the recession. The hikes included auto tag fees, a $1-a-pack cigarette tax, as well as higher fees to visit state parks and to file civil lawsuits and foreclosure actions. There is no dispute that Crist signed those tax and fee increases into law, but the Republican Party of Florida omits that the tax and fee hikes were supported by the Republican-led Legislature at the time. That includes influential Republican legislators who now in key leadership positions: Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, who was House majority whip at the time; House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel; and Senate President Don Gaetz.
Recently, Crist made no apologies for supporting the auto tag increase when he spoke during an event in Tampa on the same day that Scott signed the cut into law.
"We had to get through a tough time, and sometimes you have to make difficult decisions," Crist said in Tampa. "And we saved thousands of teachers' jobs, law enforcement officers' jobs, firefighters' jobs."
What Crist has said about the potential for future tax increases
As for Crist’s willingness to raise future taxes, the Republican Party of Florida pointed to a brief clip of MSNBC’s Ed Schultz interviewing Crist on Nov. 18, 2013, a couple of weeks after Crist declared his candidacy. We went looking for the complete exchange about taxes; here’s how it went:
Schultz: "What is your philosophy of taxation? What would you do different. We have income inequality as a huge issue in this country. The wealthy seem to get the breaks. They have under the conservative rule. What would you do differently? What would you do with Florida’s finances and what would you expect? Would you expect more out of the wealthiest residents?"
Crist: "Well, I think we all have to expect more out of each other. I don’t like to raise taxes. I don’t know that anybody really enjoys the idea of doing that. I did that as a governor, though."
Schultz: "Would you do it again?"
Crist: "If necessary, I would. I mean, you know."
Schultz: "Is it necessary now?"
Crist: "We have the highest budget we’ve had in the history of Florida right now at $74 billion. So, I don’t know if it’s necessary right now. I like to live within our means if we possibly can do so, but we have to properly fund public education. We have to properly fund the needs of the most vulnerable in our society. And when Governor Scott got elected, the very first session, he whacked public education funding by $1.3 billion."
Schultz: "Would you restore that?"
Crist: "Absolutely, we’d restore that."
Schultz: "So that money would come back in under Charlie Crist."
Crist: "Yes sir. It would. And the $300 million, he took out of higher ed the second session."
Schultz: "And how would you pay for it?"
Crist: "Pay for it by the existing revenues that we have. And if necessary, if we have to raise taxes, I would do it, but I’d rather not if we don’t have to. Like I said, I like to live within our means."
Crist’s campaign website includes a mention of "tax cuts for middle-class families" on his policy position page about the economy and jobs, but it’s vague. It states:
"Today, Florida’s tax policy works only if you are a special interest with a lobbyist – but it fails everyday Floridians and small business owners. As Governor, Charlie will reform government to put the people first, using incentives to help homegrown Florida small businesses grow the economy from the middle class out, not simply giving handouts to political supporters."
We sent the claim by the Republican Party to Crist’s campaign and an informal adviser to the campaign, former state Sen. Steve Geller. Geller said Crist supports giving small businesses a tax break and pointed to part of Crist’s announcement speech in November:
"As governor, we are going to have a tax policy that puts you the people first – and when we can cut taxes – and I do believe in cutting taxes – it is you the people who would get the relief – and when we spend money to help business, we are using it to grow the economy from the middle class out, not simply giving it away to supporters."
The Republican Party of Florida said that Crist "raised taxes in 2009 and won’t rule out raising taxes again."
Crist -- along with the Republican-led Legislature -- did raise the cigarette tax and a slew of fees including auto tag fees in 2009 to balance the budget during a recession.
When asked in November if he would raise taxes in the future, Crist said "if necessary." The Republicans omitted Crist’s softer language in the same interview when he added, "I don’t know if it’s necessary right now."
We rate this claim Mostly True.
Charlie Crist campaign website, Economy and jobs, Accessed April 3, 2014
WESH 2 News, Charlie Crist’s announcement speech, Nov. 4, 2014
Republican Party of Florida, Charlie Crist loves taxes," April 2, 2014
Nexis, Transcript of Ed Schultz interview with Charlie Crist, Nov. 18, 2013
MSNBC, Ed Schultz interview with Charlie Crist, Nov. 18, 2013
Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times, "Scott signs tag fee rollback, blasts Crist," April 3, 2014
PolitiFact, "Charlie Justice says the Legislature raised $2 billion in new taxes and fees," March 8, 2010
Interview, Susan Hepworth, Republican Party of Florida spokeswoman, April 3, 2014
Interview, former state Sen. Steve Geller, informal adviser to Charlie Crist campaign, April 7, 2014
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