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Florida motorists to get breaks on toll bills

Sunpass signs on Florida toll road
Josh Lintz

Frequent users of many toll roads could get discounts averaging about $10 a month for the next six months, under a plan Gov. Ron DeSantis rolled out Thursday.

With the general-election campaign fully underway, DeSantis said he hopes to expand the toll-discount plan as part of a larger tax-cut package during the 2023 legislative session. DeSantis said offering breaks to motorists would help offset inflation that he contends will be exacerbated by President Joe Biden’s executive order Wednesday to forgive student-loan debt.

Toll discounts will be applied starting Sept. 1 to trips involving cars, SUVs and pickup trucks when the motorists are in good standing with their SunPass or other Florida transponder accounts.

About 400,000 SunPass customers are expected to see discounts resulting in an overall $38 million cut in toll collections. Toll revenues are used for such things as building and improving roads.

The governor’s office said average commuters could save about $60 over six months, with savings depending on how frequently they use toll roads. The plan would provide 20% bill credits to motorists who have at least 40 toll transactions a month and 25% credits for people who hit toll roads 80 or more times a month.

Roads in the plan include the turnpike, the Sawgrass Expressway, Alligator Alley, the Polk Parkway, the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, the I-4 Connector, Veterans Expressway, the First Coast Expressway, the Garcon Point Bridge, the Pinellas Bayway and express lanes. It also will cover parts of the Beachline East, the Beachline West, the Western Beltway, the Southern Connector Extension, the Seminole Expressway and Wekiva Parkway.

During a news conference at the turnpike headquarters in Orlando, DeSantis said he hopes to include roads that are part of the Miami-Dade and Central Florida expressway authorities in legislation next year.

The governor, who will face Democrat Charlie Crist in the November election, also used the announcement to criticize Biden’s student-debt forgiveness plan. Biden’s plan seeks to forgive up to $20,000 in loans for Pell Grant recipients and up to $10,000 for other borrowers.

“A very small number of people you're looking at are going to get these loans paid for by taxpayers,” DeSantis said. “It just doesn't really make sense. It's not a way to really unify the country behind a shared purpose.“

DeSantis, who graduated from Yale University and Harvard Law School, added, “It's very unfair to have a truck driver have to pay back a loan from somebody that got like a Ph.D in gender studies.”

But Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, posted on Twitter that people need to be mad about $543 million in pandemic-related tax refunds received by Florida corporations in 2020, “not the working families struggling to pay student loans who may finally be able to breathe.”

Jim Turner - News Service of Florida