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Senator wants greater oversight of FDOT settlements after SunPass deal

The move is in the wake of reporting that Department of Transportation officials paid a company $3.6 million to drop its bid in 2014.
A view of the I-275 northbound Sunpass lane at the Skyway Bridge photographed in 2015 from a reporter's car. [WILL VRAGOVIC | Times]
Published Apr. 19

State Sen. Tom Lee wants lawmakers to have oversight over transportation department settlements after news broke that state officials made a secret $3.6 million settlement to get a bidder on the state’s SunPass project to go away five years ago.

The Thonotosassa Republican has been raising questions about the settlement since it was detailed by the Times/Herald earlier last month.

The settlement went to San Diego-based Cubic Transportation Systems, one of the companies that bid on a an estimated $600 million project to overhaul the state’s SunPass toll system.

The department deviated from its own rules to award the contract to one of Cubic’s competitors, New Jersey-based Conduent, which had ties to Gov. Rick Scott, and which badly botched its takeover of the SunPass system last summer.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: How Florida’s SunPass debacle started in 2012

Florida spent $3.6 million for a company to drop its SunPass bid. Is this normal?

SunPass: FDOT fines contractor $4.6 million, replaces tolling director

When Cubic protested the selection of Conduent, a judge sided against them. But when Cubic’s lawyers appealed the judge’s decision, a federal appellate court granted them a permanent stay, prohibiting the department from reaching a deal with Conduent.

Then, in a highly unusual move, Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad convinced Cubic executives to drop their appeal, in exchange for $3.6 million. The deal allowed the department to reach a deal with Conduent.

The department never told lawmakers about the settlement, and they claimed at the time that it was buying up intellectual property Cubic used in its bid.

The new transportation secretary told Lee last month, however, that the department has no evidence it ever used Cubic’s property.

Lee’s amendment would require the Department of Transportation to do a thorough analysis before paying a settlement to a company bidding on one of the department’s contracts.

It would also require transportation officials notify the House speaker, Senate president, the House and Senate minority leaders, the chair and vice chair of the Legislative Budget Commission and the attorney general whenever the department is in settlement talks with a bidder.

Lee had filed the same amendment to a different transportation bill this week.

But in the frantic final minutes of a Senate Appropriations Committee meeting on Thursday, committee chairman Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, removed Lee’s amendment from the bill with no discussion.

Lee wasn’t able to present the amendment and senators weren’t allowed to vote on it. Two other different amendments were taken out with no discussion as well.

On Friday, Lee fixed the problem by filing the same amendment to one of his own bills, which would create a massive toll road project throughout the state. The bill is a priority for Senate President Bill Galvano.

That bill — and Lee’s amendment — could be heard on the Senate floor as early as next week.

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