The future of the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority remains unclear after a recent ruling by a Leon County Judge that the legislation ordering its dissolution violated the “home rule” in the state’s constitution. Now there's a fight between state lawmakers and the current head of the MDX, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, over whether members of the county should maintain control.
Back in June, Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law the creation of the Greater Miami Expressway Agency, which was meant to replace the MDX toll board. It came after months of pressure from Miami-Dade County lawmakers like Republican State Senator Manny Diaz Jr. who took issue with how the agency was being run. The GMX would have 4 appointed board members, 3 of whom were appointed by the Governor.
The bill was promptly challenged by MDX board members who argued Tallahassee should not be able to usurp local control. And last week, Leon County Judge John Cooper ruled that the legislation violated “home rule.”
WLRN's Luis Hernandez spoke with Senator Diaz on Sundial about the future of the toll authority and other transportation issues, as well as his focus on education for the upcoming legislative session.
WLRN: Why do you disagree with the judge, why do you think “home rule” should be exempt in this circumstance?
DIAZ: This is not a home rule issue because this was a statutorily-created entity by the state legislature. And the state legislature has the authority to create an entity such as a transportation authority. It was not created by home rules, it was created by state statute and then, the way it was implemented, it gave the locals authority to appoint members of the board and [for] the funds remain locally. But remember, these were five state roads that were turned over to these authorities. So this was a statutory creation, which allowed MDX to exist to begin with. The transportation authority does not belong to the county. It belongs to the residents of Miami-Dade County as a separate independent entity that oversees those five roads.
Home rule is designed so that the state allows local governments to be able to manage its own issues when it comes to zoning, when it comes to local roads and things of that nature. But when it comes to what were state roads that are managed independently by a board, this was statutorily-created. Had the legislature not passed the statute to create MDX, the county couldn't just arbitrarily create it.
Is it basically a fight between locals wanting to have control and the state wanting to have control?
No absolutely not. If you look at the makeup of the law with the new GMX, it actually continues to be completely local control. Despite the rumors, none of the funds leave Miami-Dade County they stay in those roads. Simply what was implemented was some more rigorous transparency when it comes to procurement and when it comes to disclosure. There was a change in the board to allow for more locals to be appointed with the input from the eight local mayors which are the largest eight cities which sit on the TPL.
So, all it [the bill] did was reconfigure some of that, to allow for more input from the locals. We know that traffic is affecting all of these cities and so there should be more input from other entities, not just the county commission. At the end of the day, these roads affect all of us, not just the county commission and it's not a county entity. It's an entity for the residents of Miami-Dade County to support and maintain traffic.
And the interesting part is, after the law was passed and signed and even while it's being debated, the MDX Board met, I believe illegally anddecided to reduce or to implement the rebate of 30 percent, which all along they were saying they couldn't afford to do because it would cut projects. Well ,clearly there is enough money in there, which is what we were calculating when the bill was passed. They can reduce these tolls for people who were using it every day and they still have money left over to be able to complete some of these projects, including the Kendall Parkway.
One of the other things obviously people think about when they think of tolls, is the debacle with SunPass. How does that get alleviated? People have lost trust in this contract.
Yeah, absolutely and I think that's one of the issues that Governor DeSantis inherited when he came in. That's an executive procurement through the DOT [Florida Department of Transportation]. And I think it's inexcusable for any vendor who has that massive impact on drivers all over the state to have these kind of mistakes. And I know that the governor's office, the DOT, have been dealing with that. I think we may end up seeing another vendor come in. There are other vendors across the country that do this same services and in fact if you drive through central Florida you'll see that some of those other vendors are already accepted on some of those roads. And CFX which is a Central Florida Expressway.