MIAMI, Fla. (WFLA) — Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke in Miami at the Florida Department of Transportation District 6 headquarters. Signage at the Miami event was about the SunPass program, with language reading “Purchase” and “Activate your SunPass PRO or Mini here.” The event was focused on toll relief.
The governor introduced a variety of state officials and legislators saying Florida had been fortunate to stay open during COVID, saving jobs and businesses and praised the low unemployment rate. He said President Joe Biden was going to “plunge” the U.S. into a “deep recession,” and that prices were high due to ongoing inflation.
Mentioning the budget surplus in the state, a record $22 billion, DeSantis said the big reserves inspired him to introduce a toll rebate program. He announced the SunPass Savings Program when speaking in Orlando at the end of August. Those who have 40 or more tolls per month could see as much as 20% or more in discount credits on their SunPass bills.
“With part of that budget surplus, we are going to seek major toll relief for every single toll facility in the state of Florida,” DeSantis announced, calling it a legislative priority for the state’s lawmakers and executive office. “If you are a bonafide commuter, you are getting a 50% discount in your tolls for the entire year.”
Highlighting strong state revenue, DeSantis said the toll relief proposal was a way to return that investment to Florida residents.
“This toll relief is one of the most effective ways to do that. I think it’s going to make a huge difference,” DeSantis said. “There were so many people when COVID hit, had the luxury of working on their laptop in their pajamas at home, and that’s fine, I mean if your job allows you to do that. But you have these cops, these firefighters, these nurses, they’ve gotta be there in person, and they’ve gotta go. They can’t avoid these tolls, so they get hit with it every single day.”
The governor said if the proposal was approved, FDOT would simply provide an automatic credit every month and users would see it on their bills. The whole statewide program for “main tolls” would qualify, in addition to the other areas named for the program announced in August.
“This is just one thing of many that we’re going to do in terms of tax relief,” DeSantis said. “I think we did $1.2 billion this year, which was the most in Florida history, but we’re going to do more than that, we’re going to beat that, next year.”
Even with his potential reelection, with November to decide the next governor between DeSantis as incumbent or Charlie Crist as the Democratic candidate, making the toll relief program a legislative priority means it could happen regardless of who is governor.
The governor’s office released a map with the locations, following the Miami event.
Turning to economic policy and inflation, DeSantis said the newly passed federal Inflation Reduction Act would expand the Internal Revenue Service and target small business owners, handymen, and sole proprietors who didn’t have resources to fight off IRS audits, rather than provide relief to Americans. DeSantis said he expected the law to add to inflation.
Talking about other national efforts, DeSantis turned to the student debt relief plan announced by Biden. He said the relief plan would also add to inflation, possibly removing $1 trillion in debt from America’s students. DeSantis said that would be equal to about $6,000 per taxpayer in terms of liability. He said universities, on the other hand, would not be required to pay anything into the relief option, saying higher education had used higher tuition to pay for administrative bloat rather than improve quality of education.
“Since I’ve been governor, state universities, there have been zero increases in tuition for state universities,” DeSantis said, saying he was proud of it. “We’re very proud that we have options for people that’s not going to thrust them into the poor house with $100,000 in debt.”
The governor said the state would look for ways to provide relief to “Bidenflation” economic concerns, and that the student debt plan from the federal government would exacerbate inflation.
Lt. Gov. Nuñez spoke as well, saying the toll relief program would address one of the two main traffic problems for Floridians, the other being traffic congestion.
“Here in the state of Florida, as you all know, many people work across county lines,” Nuñez said. She listed off multiple counties and what portion of workers traveled far for work. “This expanded toll savings program has the potential to positively impact families in South Florida and beyond it, and we’re excited to work with our partners in the legislature, and I’m joining the governor and calling on our friends to take this proposal and make sure they can bring relief to the average Floridian and under the policies that are impacted in D.C.”
Then, DeSantis announced a future announcement related to the state’s transportation needs, and said they were looking at areas they could put extra funding in to push projects forward and provide relief for traffic congestion.
FDOT Secretary Jared Perdue spoke next, thanking the governor for “leading Florida in a big way,” praising the SunPass Savings Program for giving relief to Floridians, and saying the new SunPass initiative would expand that relief through work with the legislature.
Aiming at providing relief to all Floridians, DeSantis said toll costs were something the state had a duty to reduce for elderly residents, especially when costs were going up across the market.
“This is just one proposal, we’re going to do a lot more,” DeSantis said. “We’re going to lessen the burden on folks as they struggle with rising grocery costs, utilities, and housing and everything that has really gone up higher than any time in my life. On all of these things, and has gone up at such a rapid pace. We’re here to relieve those burdens within the confines of our authority.”
The governor took some questions from the crowd after. The first question was about how the program would work.
He explained that the way it would work is that each month, their SunPass account would count toll trips. After the month, if you hit the threshold for the program, drivers will receive a 50% credit. DeSantis said he’d rather have tourists pay tolls than Floridians.
“We’re very fortunate that when you lead the nation in tourism, those folks pay taxes, and that’s part of the reason we can have such a low tax burden statewide,” DeSantis said.
Answering a question about the budget surplus, DeSantis said the budget surplus would be used to meet the revenue needs opened by the change of toll program.
“There’s not going to be any non-payment to fulfill those obligations,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis also spoke about the recent 20 arrests he had announced for convicted murderers and rapists who “voted illegally.” He said the law was known, and that third party groups telling convicted rapists they can vote is “false” and that the voter registration groups who did so “may be exposed” to liability.
“Some of these groups, you wonder where there values are. You’re relying on convicted rapists to get what you want at the polls, no thank you on that one, I think that’s wrong,” DeSantis said. “Our view is that we want voters who are lawful to vote to be able to vote, but if someone votes illegally, they could have canceled your vote out. How do you feel about that? They could have canceled out the vote of some World War II veteran who fought to preserve our freedoms, and so it is important that we’re upholding the law, and this will help show people and disabuse them of maybe any lack of clarity that they have about what the rules are in Florida, and what the rules are not.”
In response to a question about anti-Cuban and anti-immigration rhetoric, DeSantis said comparisons of Cubans fleeing communist rule to drug runners at the Southern Border were incorrect. Referring to Crist’s running mate, Karla Hernández-Mats, DeSantis said that no decision made in Florida for the long-term health of society was reopening schools.
“She fought us tooth and nail, Crist fought us tooth and nail, they wanted kids locked out of school,” DeSantis said. “That would have caused irreparable damage to their upbringing and would have ended up having huge consequences coming downstream. That alone is disqualifying, when you’re wrong on one of the most important issues that this country has had to face over the last few years. The people that cheer leaded for school closures were wrong. They were grievously wrong. And Florida, we got it right. We’re proud that we got it right.”
He said the comparisons about immigration were an insult to Cubans, an insult to the country of Cuba, calling it a “third world country with so much potential.” Explaining previous comments on immigration by the Lt. Governor, DeSantis said Nuñez had been talking about those crossing the border illegally, but not refugees, referring to a plan that would have bussed immigrants to Delaware.
DeSantis said lack of border rule enforcement was adding to the crisis of fentanyl in the U.S., blaming China for producing the illicit drugs but saying it was being brought over the southern border, saying “having the border be overrun is not what a sovereign country does,” and that while there were legitimate refugees, many coming through were not.
“I think they’re honestly hurting any argument, when you try to conflate somebody who fled communism here, but you know who’s having a field day? These drug cartels are having an absolute field day with what’s going on with that border,” DeSantis said. “I’ve been down to those towns, those southern border towns. They used to be Democrats, not anymore. You just have people storming, they can’t keep up with it, they’re overwhelmed.”
The governor said the goal for Florida was to inspire a change in policy, taking issue with current border policies of the Biden administration.