ORLANDO, Fla. (WFLA) — Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke at the Florida Turnpike Headquarters in Orlando. Signage at the event read “Toll Relief.” The governor started the event by talking about the state’s record unemployment rate and strong economy and budget surplus.
He announced an effort with the state legislature to provide toll relief to Florida drivers, called the “Sunpass Savings Program,” starting Sept. 1. The governor’s office released a map with the locations, including the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in Tampa.
“We want to find innovative ways to provide relief for Floridians,” DeSantis said. “That’s something we’re working on. We’re going to have the biggest tax relief package in this state by far,” though the official plan would not be announced at this time. “You’re probably going to see a big legislative package, we’re probably going to do some property tax relief, we may have to put some stuff on the ballot, but we have an opportunity now because our fiscal situation is so strong to provide relief for Floridians when we’re facing these difficult headwinds with these inflationary policies coming out of Washington.”
Then DeSantis said he was working with the state legislature to provide toll relief to state drivers and commuters.
“You look around the state at the number of people who have to commute, and this adds up every single day to be doing those charges,” DeSantis said. Starting Sept. 1, the Florida “Sunpass Savings Program” will provide relief benefits to Sunpass and other Florida transponder users, which will run through February 2023.
“This will end up returning nearly $40 million to Sunpass customers over this six month period, and if you look at the people who have to use these every day, it adds up very quickly,” DeSantis said. “How it’s going to work is, we’re really focusing on the people that are commuters. You have tourists come, and they’ll pay a toll or something like that, and we’ll take that, you know, I’d rather we have them pay than us pay. But the people that are on our roads a lot, obviously they are our people.”
He said customers who have 40 tolls or more a month will receive a 20% credit to their Sunpass account every month, while customers with at least 80 tolls per month will get a 25% credit on their bills.
“This is small but important savings,” DeSantis said. “But it’s important to give people some breathing room because the inflation is costing people thousands of dollars per year.” He said there was no paperwork needed, as long as the account is in good standing. The credit process will be automatic.
For 2023, DeSantis said lawmakers were looking at using the budget surplus to provide additional relief to Floridians. The governor said that the state did not have unilateral authority to affect all toll systems, but the Turnpike would be involved in the relief program. The legislative effort he announced for the 2023 session would expand it to include all tolls, through state law.
In the Tampa Bay area, there are multiple toll locations that will benefit.
- Suncoast Parkway
- Veterans Expressway
- I-4 Connector
- Polk Parkway
- Pinellas Bayway
- Sunshine Skyway Bridge
In a release from the governor’s office after the event, a spokesperson for DeSantis said the relief program could save residents who use Florida Department of Transportation facilities at least $50 each month.
“On average, customers using FDOT Turnpike facilities for their daily commute spend $50 per month on tolls,” the governor’s office said in a statement. “This program could save the average commuter $60 over the next six months, and commuters with more transactions will increase their savings.”
While in Orlando, as at other events the governor has held throughout the year, DeSantis discussed the national economy compared to Florida’s, saying that the issue was “a situation called the federal government” and criticizing how inflation has progressed across the country.
“In Florida, we can fight back against a lot of the policies, but we can’t be immune to the federal government printing trillions and trillions of dollars,” DeSantis said.
He said the inflation issues have had a big impact on daily lives, before criticizing the student loan relief plan announced by President Joe Biden on Wednesday.
“The announcement yesterday, that they are going to require the American taxpayer to be responsible for some of these student loans, is first of all very unfair to people who took out loans, worked hard, and paid off their loans,” DeSantis said. “It’s very unfair to people who took other pathways in life that didn’t require them to take out a lot of loans, maybe people who went into business immediately, people that went into trade. They made those decisions to not have that debt and now that debt’s being put on them.”
He said some estimates broke down the relief as a nearly $2,000 per taxpayer. DeSantis said it was unfair to have a truck driver pay back a loan for someone who had gotten a doctoral degree in gender studies. The governor noted that tuition had not increased at Florida’s state institutions since he took office, and said that colleges had benefitted from plans by using funds to expand “the DEI office or something like that,” leading to “administrative bloat.”
DeSantis said Biden did not have the constitutional authority to provide the planned student relief, saying it was a misuse of “emergency powers” to deal with COVID-19 and was bad economic policy. He also expects the student loan relief effort to add to national inflation problems.
Listing state efforts to provide economic relief to Floridians, such as the various tax holidays approved by the Florida Legislature, DeSantis said he expected oil and gas prices to increase by the end of the year and pushed back on a federal effort to hire 87,000 Internal Revenue Service workers. He said the Inflation Reduction Act would increase inflation, rather than reduce it, saying “limousine liberals” would be unaffected while everyday Americans would be harmed, and said they weren’t adding staff to border security while fentanyl comes to the U.S. via illegal immigration.
Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nuñez and Jared Perdue, the Florida Department of Transportation Secretary also spoke at the event, in addition to members of law enforcement.
When DeSantis got back to the podium, he said it was a small step but one the state was happy to take, before turning to state budget plans to provide bonuses to various work sectors in Florida such as law enforcement and teachers. He said for law enforcement, it would amount to between a 10% and 15% raise, aimed at improving recruitment and retention.
After another critique at “Bidenflation,” DeSantis took some questions from those gathered.
On his comments at the constitutionality of student loan relief efforts, DeSantis said that Congress may be able to pass a law through their legislative authority but an executive decision “through fiat” by Biden was not “consistent with the rule of law.” He called it an unprecedented use of the president’s executive authority.
While discussing authority and constitutional powers, DeSantis commented on taking action against State Attorney Andrew Warren in Tampa.
“If you look at what we’ve done to police state attorneys in this state to make sure they’re enforcing the law as written and they’re not picking and choosing which laws to enforce and which laws to ignore, when we took action in Tampa, to suspend that state attorney,” DeSantis said. “We were acting pursuant to Article 4, Section 7 of the Florida Constitution, which says those county elected officials, because they’re not subjected to impeachment, on the way our system is designed in Florida, they are, the governor has the authority and indeed the duty to suspend them if they’ve engaged in misfeasance, malfeasance, neglect of duty, incompetence, drunkenness, they spell it out.”
DeSantis listed a few other examples of officials being suspended by gubernatorial authority due to state law, saying the student relief effort will likely be challenged in court and that it was just a way to “placate that segment of their base.”
“Maybe the inflationary hit won’t end up materializing if it doesn’t go into effect, I don’t know but I mean I’ve heard people say that but clearly I don’t think anyone will look at this and say the legal grounds are strong,” DeSantis said.
The governor then responded to a question about a recent critique by his November midterm opponent Charlie Crist, who said he was “a dictator” and “anti-freedom.”
“I think the interesting thing about the last couple of years is you had people who kept wanting to lock people down, I was one of the few that wanted to lift people up,” DeSantis said. “We protected people’s freedoms, jobs, businesses, we made sure kids could be in school, and we liberated 22 million Floridians from local mandates and restrictions. We protected them against vax mandates so they could keep working.”
He said those who were dictatorial were those who “want to lock you down,” and “lock kids out of school for the year. DeSantis said that if the state had not pushed back on those policies, it would have put “this state in the toilet,” and that Florida’s government had made the right decision.