Auto manufacturers ask Scott to veto $750,000 tab in legal fight with car dealers
Gov. Rick Scott won't have any shortage of line items to veto as he peruses the proposed $77.1 billion budget, which landed on his desk Tuesday.
But a surefire leading candidate is $750,000 for the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to "directly contract with appropriate counsel to defend the state in litigation related to the suit filed by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers in the U.S. Distrct Court for the Northern District of Florida in Tallahassee (Case No. 4:08-cv-00555-MCR-CAS)."
Sounds official enough, and the money will be used to defend a state law. But even the biggest apologists for this line item, which include Senate President Don Gaetz and auto dealers, have to acknowledge that the 2008 law it defends is a classic example of governmental regulation of the private marketplace. The law allows car dealers to charge a higher retail rate for repairs in warranty and recall work, which the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers argues steers undue profits to local dealerships while costing car producers and consumers.
It's a technical debate that underscores the historical tension between car dealers and the auto manufacturers. In other words, it's a dispute between private business interests. So why then are taxpayer dollars asked to finance the lawsuit, especially after the car dealers essentially have taken over the litigation from the state since 2009?
Neither the Florida Attorney General's Office nor the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles requested the money. Asked for more information about how exactly it would spend money it didn't request, DHSMV spokesman John Lucas would say only: "We're not going to comment on something the Governor hasn't signed yet."
The item, instead, was inserted by Gaetz, with nary an explanation. His spokeswoman provided a one-page memo explaining that the money would defend a state law that provides "consumer protection and fair trade".
Yet isn't that what the marketplace does? At least that's what Scott's libertarian supporters in the Tea Party would say, right?
To draw more attention to the line item, the Auto Alliance's President and CEO, Mitch Bainwol, sent a letter to Scott on Tuesday asking for a veto and calling the legal fees a "political maneuver" that threatened the balance between the state's branches of government.
"A private party litigant should not be able to commandeer a constitutional challenge to a legislative enactment so that it becomes more a matter of civil litigation between business entities, then prevail upon the Legislature to appropriate taxpayer dollars to fund the defense when the increased costs associated with the complicated litigation are entirely of their own making," Bainwol wrote. "Rather, such a maneuver should be righted by the appropriate exercise of executive athority and vetoed in order to restore the proper balance between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches."
Scott has until midnight June 4 to decide on the budget. When asked for comment, a Scott spokesman, John Tupps, provided an email stating that Scott would review it.