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Crist whacks Rubio turnpike business proposal

Gov. Charlie Crist this past weekend vetoed a measure that could have helped a friend of House Speaker Marco Rubio bid on a major contract for the Florida Turnpike. The provision was included in HB 5067, one of the so-called conforming bills that lawmakers passed in conjunction with the state's $66.2 billion budget.

In a statement about the veto, Crist said he was troubled by the procurement language contained in the bill, which was pushed by Rubio at the behest of South Florida fuel distributor Max Alvarez, a longtime friend of the West Miami Republican.

"I believe that we must protect the confidence citizens have entrusted to their public servants, and we should commit to making the best use of their hard earned tax dollars,'' said Crist in a statement. "Therefore it is disappointing that this legislation has directed a procurement which benefits vendors over the citizens of Florida."

The language that drew Crist's veto is also contained in the budget itself and in a separate stand-alone bill, SB 682. Crist's office said the governor plans to veto the transportation legislation and he will go to court to challenge the proviso language as unconstitutional.

HB 5067 forces state officials to split lucrative gas and food concessions for the Florida Turnpike turnpike into separate contracts instead of combining them into one giant contract. Unlike other Florida
highways, the turnpike offers gas and food at eight service plazas that don't require motorists to leave the toll road.

Rubio has acknowledged that he pushed for the concessions split after Alvarez raised objections to the Department of Transportation's propsoal, but the speaker contended that the plans are bad. Rubio in the past said the sheer size and scope of the job makes it feasible for only a few companies to win the bid, saying that the DOT contract resembled "something out of Miami-Dade government, " where proposals are drafted in "such a way where there's really only one company in the world that fits the mold."

DOT officials defended the plan, saying the idea is to to provide enough profit to lure a big corporation or conglomerate, one large enough to afford spending $175 million up front to rebuild the aging plazas on the Turnpike and run them for 30 years.

By vetoing the legislation, however, Crist has eliminated nearly $13 million in fee hikes and trust fund diversions that lawmakers used to help pay for a $3.8 million pay hike for highway patrol troopers. HB 5067 also included new beefed up requirements for drivers licenses, as well as a new eight-year drivers license.

Crist's office said the governor will direct that the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles use  its discretion to prioritize the pay hike.