Millions of Floridians are expected to travel over the course of this week to enjoy Thanksgiving with family, friends and community members.
Each of those cars will represent an opportunity for the Sunshine State to collect revenue through its many toll roads – and offer drivers half their money back on December 15.
Since January, Florida has given commuters a rebate through its toll relief program. Any transponder that passes through 35 or more tolls in a month earns a 50% credit the following month.
The state passed the program when it was flush with post-pandemic cash from the federal government. The $500 million program was expected to save the average commuter $400 over the course of the year.
Even back then, analysts warned politicians would be lobbied to extend the program beyond 2023.
“If roads decide to revert to full toll rates in 2024, they will face political and social pressure from drivers when the discounts expire,” Moody’s wrote.
With a little over a month to go, signs are emerging that an extension will be on the table, even if no concrete plan is in place.
Lawmakers already wrote themselves a lifeline when they passed the original program. Any unused funds could be carried over to pay for relief until the end of February, amid the 2024 legislative session and – conveniently – days after the first four states vote in the Republican primary, which Gov. DeSantis appeared to be a frontrunner in when the relief program was passed.
Additional extensions would have to come from a state government that is no longer as cash laden as before, although the state is still well into the black and focused on taking shots at Washington.
“Our administration is committed to relieving some of that financial burden, relieving some of that stress,” Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez said in a speech earlier this month. “We’re going to continue to do so by providing tax relief and toll relief.”
Alternatively, lawmakers could vote to extend relief but without the funding, effectively discounting its own tolls. Cuts would be made to maintenance and infrastructure projects.
In that scenario, Central Florida Expressway Authority leaders said the E-Pass tolls would not participate and revert to their original 20% to 25% discount incentive that existed before 2023.
The organization currently gets reimbursed approximately $10.8 million per month by participating in the relief program, a spokesman said.
The third option would be to let the program expire and let the wallets of Floridians shoulder the burden again months away from an election.
“It’s a big bummer,” Brian Gage said. “You don’t get around Florida unless you take a toll.”