Gov. Rick Scott is proposing cutting $156 million in state funding for Tri-Rail development unless the South Florida Regional Transit Authority reverses its decision to award a controversial half-billion contract to a lone qualified bidder.

Scott’s proposed 2017 state budget now includes an item calling for “no funding” until the authority withdraws, cancels or otherwise terminates the authority’s Notice of Intent for awarding its operating contract to Herzog Transit Services.

On the line is $156 million the state had programmed for Tri-Rail’s capital outlay from the Florida Transportation Trust Fund.

A transit authority spokeswoman said Tuesday the authority was aware of the governor’s action, but said the authority is declining comment right now.

The authority’s board of directors approved the Herzog contract by a 6-2 vote last Friday against objections from the Florida Department of Transportation and state Sen. Jeff Brandes, who chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Transportation.

The Herzog contract is worth $344 million for seven years and has annual extension options that could take it out to 10 years for $511 million. It was awarded after the transit authority’s staff unilaterally rejected five other proposals for the service on technical grounds. Some of the proposals asked far less money, as low as $396 million for ten years.

The other companies bidding on the contract, including the current operations contractor Transdev Services of Maryland, have challenged the staff rulings that there were technical issues with their proposals. Specifically, the staff had cited language that the staff interpreted as meaning the bid prices were conditional. The companies have since responded that is not the case.

The governor’s budget item also declares that before the SFRTA can obtain a new contract for operations and maintenance services, it will have to “obtain the department’s written approval of all items and conditions of the new procurement and contract for the services that were the subject of such request for proposal to ensure the authority has sufficient revenues to fund the contract.

“Further, no funds shall be provided to the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority by the department without the prior review and written approval by the department of the authority’s proposed expenditures.”

About The Author

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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