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Lawmakers may cut expressway execs salaries to cover budget shortfall

By James Call

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wfsu/local-wfsu-989176.mp3

Tallahassee, FL – Two powerful state senators are putting expressway authorities on notice. James Call reports they say they will take a close look at how local expressway authorities spend money.

Expressway authorities are state and local partnerships for transportation purposes. An authority can manage a single bridge or a 100-mile stretch of road. They use state money for administrative purposes and tolls to finance bonds to build roads. How they spend money has caught the eye of lawmakers in Tallahassee. Sarasota Senator Mike Bennett thinks the pay they give to their executive directors is quite generous.

"I can not believe that a person who manages 15, 16 20 people as expressway authority directors do that they would be making in some cases doubled the secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation who covers all the state of Florida. I just can't quite get that through my thick head here. So, Anything that we can do in this committee to look at that."

Florida Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad will provide the Senate Budget transportation subcommittee with a comparison of spending by the Turnpike authority, which is under his control, and the expressway authorities which are local agencies. It shows that the expressway spends about 33 percent more per full-time employee than the Turnpike. Prasad, as DOT secretary makes 132 thousand dollars a year, in Florida, executive director of an expressway authority gets upwards of 220 thousand dollars. Niceville Senator Don Gaetz thinks this is wrong.

"Cause there may be a very easy way to solve this problem and that is with a budget amendment that I will be prepared to offer which would simply eliminate any state funding to any state authority that pays its executive director more than what the secretary of DOT makes. I'll be prepared to offer that budget amendment."

This will be the second year in a row that the Florida Senate has made a run at expressway authorities. A proposal for the state to absorb three authorities died last year during budget negotiations. Hillsborough Senator Jim Norman argued to maintain local control of the authorities. He said he wants a strong partnership between the state and authorities. However, like almost everything the state spends money on, the partnership is struggling in a sluggish economy. This year, lawmakers are looking at closing an expected 2 billion dollar budget shortfall with spending cuts. And Bennett says salaries for authority executives is a likely place to find savings.

"When you got people some of these expressway authorities who are making two three hundred thousand dollars in some cases twice as much as the Secretary of the Department of Transportation for the entire state of Florida. They make more money that the governor of the state of Florida. Okay. And the expressway authority manages 10, 15, 20 people? There's something wrong with the deal. We're going to take another look at that."

Senator Gaetz adds if an authority can pay its executive director more than what the DOT secretary makes then the authority doesn't need taxpayers money.