Sunday, March 25, 2007

Florida House Attempts to Outsource Tolls

A perfect example of the pickle the Florida Legislature have gotten themselves into with year-after-year tax cuts is their latest hair-brained scheme. HB 7033 proposes that paying private companies to run toll booths would actually raise revenue for transportation expenses.


Public-private transportation facilities.--The Legislature hereby finds and declares that there is a public need for rapid construction of safe and efficient transportation facilities for the purpose of travel within the state. It is the intent of the Legislature to strengthen the state's transportation system by providing the department with innovative financing techniques, including, but not limited to, public-private partnerships, toll facility leases, and user fees. In response to increased congestion, population, and market demands, and that it is in the public's interest to provide for the construction of additional safe, convenient, and economical transportation facilities.


More.


(a) With the exception of the Florida Turnpike System, the department may leas existing toll facilities through public-private partnerships. If the agreement for leasing an existing toll facility does not include provisions for additional capacity, the project and the provisions of the agreement must be approved by the Legislature. The public-private partnership agreement must ensure that the toll facility is properly operated, maintained, and renewed in accordance with department
99 standards.


(b) The department may develop new toll facilities or increase capacity on existing toll facilities through public-private partnerships. The public-private partnership agreement must ensure that the toll facility is properly operated, maintained, and renewed in accordance with department standards.


(c) The amount of toll or fare revenues shall be regulated by the department pursuant to s. 338.165(3). The regulations governing the future increase of toll or fare revenues shall be included in the public-private partnership agreement.


(d) The department shall include provisions in the public-private partnership agreement that ensure a portion of excess revenues from tolled projects are returned to the department over the life of the public-private partnership agreement. In 113 the case of a lease of an existing toll facility, the department shall receive a portion of funds upon closing on the agreements and shall also include provisions in the agreement to receive payment of a portion of excess revenues over the life of the public-private partnership.


Paying private companies to run toll booths and receiving only a "pontion" of the revenue does not sound like a money-making deal. The Sunshine Skyway Bridge would have been affected by this bill. The Herald Tribune reports that the bill appears to be dead this year. What is interesting is the bill would add more expenses to the Florida Department of Transportation.


A House bill (HB 7033) that would let existing toll facilities, like the Skyway Bridge, be leased to private companies. The companies would pay the state an upfront fee and then recoup their investment by raising tolls on the facilities over the term of a 50-year, or longer, lease. The legislation would also provide more incentives to private companies to build new toll facilities.


A bill that would lift the cap on bonds issued by the Florida Turnpike System from $4.5 billion to $9 billion. It would add another $900 million in turnpike projects to the DOT's five-year construction program.


This bill is pork that is meant to provide a financial windfall for private companies. I wrote before that outsourcing hasn't saved Florida money. That was never the point of HB 7033. It was just the sales pitch.

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