Thursday, May 21, 2009

Sen. Dave Aronberg: 13-Months and $3 Million Later, FDOT left at the Privatization Altar‏

From the Senate Dems:

A controversial plan that wasted almost $3 million dollars over a 13-month period dramatically underscores the need for tough legislation protecting taxpayers from similar privatization follies, Senator Dave Aronberg (D-Greenacres) said Thursday.

“This idea was ill-conceived from the very beginning. The Department of Transportation sped through the process and taxpayer dollars with minimal public input, and it deserves to be dead and buried forever,” said Aronberg, a long-time consumer advocate and government privatization watchdog.

At issue is the State’s costly and futile attempt to lease Alligator Alley to foreign-owned corporations for 50 to 75 years. The 84 mile roadway, built almost 50 years ago with public funds, largely traverses the Everglades, connecting Southwest and Southeast Florida.

Deeply concerned that privatization could not only threaten Florida’s security by allowing a foreign-owned corporation to take control of the highway, but that the state would be powerless to stop toll hikes or deceased maintenance, Aronberg attempted to pass legislation this year preventing both.

Aronberg’s bills would have barred foreign-owned companies from bidding on Alligator Alley or similar highway projects, and imposed a two-year moratorium on any deal to turn over control of state roads to private companies.

Although the legislature failed to pass Aronberg’s measures, the Greenacres Democrat was successful in passing an amendment through the Senate that would increase oversight of such deals. The implications of the amendment drew increased scrutiny on FDOT’s high stakes privatization gamble.

Having spent $2.9 million over the course of 13 months on consultants and attorneys, the agency was left empty-handed. Despite earlier signals from interested corporations, including foreign-owned ones, and two bidding extensions, no bids were received by FDOT’s Monday deadline.

“The lack of bids doesn’t mean there is a lack of interest,” Aronberg said. “Unfortunately, throughout this entire ordeal, we’ve seen the details often surface after the fact, and the public becomes the last to know where their money has been spent and what they get from the deal.

“Having spent nearly $3 million in public funds with nothing to show for it, I believe the agency needs to learn the lessons from this costly gamble. And the people of Florida have gained 3 million new reasons to embrace the bills I intend to file once again.”

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