Miami-Dade County

Gov. Scott pressures Tri-Rail to rescind controversial $500M operating contract

People wait at the Miami International Airport Tri-Rail station.
People wait at the Miami International Airport Tri-Rail station.

Gov. Rick Scott reserved part of a proposed $83 billion budget released Tuesday to pressure South Florida’s publicly funded commuter rail service to rescind a vote to award a controversial $500 million operational contract to a private vendor.

Scott, in the allocations portion of his spending plan, warned the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority that it could lose any chance to receive a cut of a $156 million transportation trust fund if its board does not rescind a potentially 10-year operational contract awarded Friday to Herzog Transit Services.

The massive contract, approved after all five other bidders were disqualified, has sparked protests from the ousted companies and Sen. Jeff Brandes, chairman of a state legislative subcommittee that oversees the authority’s state funds. It also caused the Florida Department of Transportation secretary to issue a stern letter Friday, warning that some or all of the authority’s $42 million in state funds could be withheld as the department pushes to stop issuing funds in quarterly grants and instead force Tri-Rail to submit expenses for reimbursement.

Scott upped the ante Tuesday, using his budget to demand that the agency rescind its contract with Herzog and reopen its competitive solicitation for the operational contract, even though a Broward judge ruled last week that Tri-Rail’s bidding process was fair. The governor also put further pressure on the authority to acquiesce to submit its expenses for reimbursement, even though his budget is only a proposal, and must be approved by the Florida Legislature.

Jack Stephens, the transportation authority’s executive director, declined to comment Tuesday afternoon, saying his staff was still analyzing and digesting Scott’s budget. In a Monday letter to FDOT Secretary Jim Boxold, Stephens defended the contract with Herzog, and disputed the findings of an audit that determined its grants must be submitted as reimbursements.

Scott’s warnings to Tri-Rail were first reported by the Palm Beach Post.