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Wednesday, October 10, 2007
National Safety Commission Sues to Remove Unconstitutional Language from State Budget
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The National Safety Commission today filed suit in Leon County Circuit Court to remove "unconstitutional" language from the Florida budget and had harsh words for the Florida Senate and Senator Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey. The language would prohibit the state from allowing advertising in the Official Florida Drivers’ Handbook, which attempts to end a public-private partnership that saves taxpayers $500,000 per year.
The suit (National Safety Commission, Inc. V. the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles) contends the language in question, (Specific Appropriation 2814 in the FY 2007/2008 General Appropriations Act, and Section 46 of the appropriations implementing bill), is unconstitutional because it unlawfully impairs the National Safety Commission’s contract rights and because it amends substantive law on an issue not pertaining to appropriations.
"As many senior government officials have explained to me, the origins of this entire 'Fasano Fiasco' stem from his extraordinary abuse of power," said Ken Underwood, CEO of the National Safety Commission. "Senator Fasano exerts enormous influence over the DMV through his powerful budget chairmanship and he has inappropriately threatened to withhold funding if the Department doesn't meet the demands of the special interest group that includes his business partner to illegally cancel a valid contract," Underwood said.
"While we are confident that we will ultimately prevail in terms of contract law, we feel compelled to challenge this unconstitutional budget language to derail this successful public-private partnership," Underwood says. "This effort, led by Senator Mike Fasano, has set a dangerous precedent for any business that enters into a contract with the state in good faith, and it has a chilling effect on any future public-private partnerships. No one will want to do business with the State of Florida when the Senate can cancel award winning contracts 'willy-nilly'."
The National Safety Commission, which operates online driving-safety courses at Lowestpricetrafficschool.com, currently partners with the Department of Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles to print more than 2 million Official Drivers Handbooks each year at no cost to taxpayers.
In May, Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed the appropriations proviso language that would have scuttled the contract and spent taxpayer funds to pay for services the state now receives for free. This followed a report by Florida TaxWatch, the highly respected taxpayer watchdog group, which identified Senator Fasano's language as its #1 Turkey.
In June, however, a coalition with questionable ties to Sen. Mike Fasano sued alleging the governor's line-item veto of proviso language is unconstitutional. In turn, the National Safety Commission has now filed suit contending that the vetoed language provided by Senator Fasano was itself unconstitutional. "Whether the governor's veto is Unconstitutional is immaterial because the proviso language and the implementing bill language provided by Senator Fasano are unconstitutional," Underwood explained.
In 2005, the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles solicited open, competitive bids for a public ITN for a vendor to publish more than 2 million Official Florida Drivers Handbooks annually at no cost to taxpayers in exchange for advertising rights. Despite the Department's active solicitation of bids from a variety of vendors and traffic schools, the National Safety Commission was the only company to respond and submit a proposal to provide the cost-saving service to the state. "These competitors now regret that decision and, after forming a coalition, have spent the past two years attempting to "undo" the contract while engaging in a cozy relationship with Senator Fasano - hiring Senator Fasono's former aide who then hired Senator Fasano's business partner."
A 2006 review of the handbook contract by the state auditor general's office found all allegations of wrongdoing to be "unsubstantiated." Yet, this spring, Fasano's little-noticed provision in the budget passed and attempted to terminate the project – forcing the state to implement a spending increase had the governor not vetoed it.
The idea and fulfillment of this landmark public/private partnership won the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles the highly coveted Davis Productivity Award – a benchmark of government innovation to protect taxpayer dollars. Florida TaxWatch has endorsed the plan, estimated to save $2.5 -$3.0 million in state funds over five years, and has recommended the state to employ other such partnerships to publish state information, which could save $20 million more.
This week, Senator Fasano is again attempting to have taxpayers bear the burden of the handbooks by crafting a mechanism whereby the Department must cancel the contract and use public funds should the coalition lawsuit succeed. Underwood stated that there's still time to resolve the issue outside the courtroom, but that the Senate is adamantly refusing to do so, despite repeated requests from House Leadership.
"It's unconscionable that while budget shortfalls are forcing lawmakers to cut funding for the disabled and other priorities, the Senate still wants to waste taxpayer dollars to pay for services that taxpayers are already receiving for free. The House is ready, willing, and able to put an end to Senator Fasano's shenanigans that supports "special interest." But the Senate continues to compromise their integrity by putting loyalty to their controversial Chairman ahead of what's good for Floridians and the right thing to do. It's just shameful. Florida consumers and businesses expect better Senate leadership and we call on the leadership to act swiftly and appropriately," Underwood concluded.