Florida lawmakers want rehearing in expressway authority lawsuit

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The Florida House of Representatives wants another chance to argue that its law eliminating the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority is legal.

Lawmakers have asked Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper for a rehearing to show why Cooper may have erred in an Aug. 29 written decision stating that a portion of House Bill 385 abolishing the expressway authority violated Miami-Dade County’s home rule powers in the state constitution.

The MDX has filed a brief opposing the House’s request.

If the bill, signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis on July 3, is determined to be legal, it would create the Greater Miami Expressway Agency with a new board under tighter state control. It would terminate the independent Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, also known as MDX.

Cooper said a portion of HB 385 relating only to MDX is an unconstitutional special local law pertaining only to Miami-Dade County. He granted summary judgment in favor of MDX on count one of its eight-count lawsuit, positioning it for an appeal expected to eventually end up before the Florida Supreme Court.

In a motion for rehearing filed Sept. 13, the House said it needs more time to develop evidence it believes will show that HB 385 isn’t a local bill, and that it was passed under general laws of the state, meaning that it doesn’t pertain solely to Miami-Dade County.

“Because the facts could neither be developed nor tested before [MDX] rushed to summary judgment, and because there is a genuine issue of material fact in dispute, plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment on count one should be denied,” wrote attorneys for the House.

The House said it wants time to examine toll transponders, in hopes of proving “that a substantial number of drivers across the state” and nation use MDX’s five tolled expressways.

Experts will also be used by the House to testify about the economic impact of the expressways at issue in the case to show that they have a “material statewide impact,” and that the bill is not an invalid local law applicable only to Miami-Dade County.

MDX first filed its lawsuit challenging HB 385 on May 5. DeSantis, the state Department of Transportation and the Florida Transportation Commission were named as defendants. DeSantis and the FTC were later dismissed from the case.

Cooper allowed the House to become an intervenor in the case in July, the same month he allowed Miami-Dade County to file a brief as an amicus curiae, or “friend of the court,” and to defend its home rule authority.

The Legislature’s move to eliminate MDX led rating analysts to criticize Florida lawmakers for what they called unprecedented and persistent political interference into an independent agency with toll-setting authority.

The MDX has about $1.5 billion of bonds outstanding. Its bond ratings have been downgraded by the three rating agencies because HB 385 orders the successor agency’s new board to focus on toll reductions and requires that state officials approve future bond issues.

Although the lawsuit is still pending, the MDX Board of Directors resumed regular monthly meetings in August.

On Tuesday, the board will hold its second meeting since Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill into law.

Items of discussion will include an update on the Kendall Parkway, a $1 billion toll project. The MDX still needs to determine how the project will be financed after the downgrades.

S&P Global Ratings lowered MDX's rating to A from A-plus on July 16. Moody's Investors Service cut its ratings to A3 from A2 on July 5, and to A2 from A1 on May 10. Fitch Ratings downgraded its rating to A-minus from A on May 8. All have negative outlooks.

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