Monday, April 7, 2008

Just the Right Words

It pays to have friends in high places.

Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio quietly slipped tough-to-spot language in a state budget plan last week that helps a friend and political money-man bid on a major fuel contract in a $265 million turnpike overhaul proposal.

This is the second year in a row that South Florida fuel distributor Max Alvarez has relied on the man he has said is ”like a son” to push the budget language to ensure he can more easily bid for the job.

Rubio declined to discuss the issue, though he acknowledged through spokeswoman Jill Chamberlin that his office ”had a role” in putting the language in the budget, adding that ”others are interested in it as well.”

Republican lawmakers and staffers, including Rubio allies, told The Miami Herald that the speaker was the one who inserted the language in the budget. Chamberlin said she wasn’t told.

At issue: the Florida Turnpike Enterprise’s mammoth plans to combine its separate food and fuel concessions for its rest stops into one contract. But the contracts have remained split due to the budget language pushed by Alvarez, giving him a better shot at winning the fuel concession that supplied 54 million gallons of gas last year.

Senate Republican leader Dan Webster said the budget language — which surfaced last year ”in the dark of night” — remains a ”bad deal” because it would prohibit the state from even getting bids to see if a combined contract is advantageous.

I’m sure that Mr. Rubio will claim that it is all perfectly legal and that this kind of thing happens all the time. Well, just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s right, and because it happens all the time reinforces the public’s distrust of their elected officials. Besides, if it was all above-board, why did Speaker Rubio sneak the language beneficial to his friend into the bill without leaving fingerprints, and whatever happened to the idea of governing in the sunshine?