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Florida TaxWatch: Move to Kill Cost-Saving Driver Handbook Contract is No. 1 "Turkey".

Taxpayer Watchdog Group Urges Gov. Crist to Veto Budget Provision That Would Make State Pay for Service It Now Receives for Free

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Contact of release should read: For National Safety Commission, Tallahassee, James VanLandingham, 850-222-1996 (sted: For Florida TaxWatch, Tallahassee, James VanLandingham, 850-222-1996) and source should read National Safety Commission (sted Florida TaxWatch).

The corrected release reads:

FLORIDA TAXWATCH: MOVE TO KILL COST-SAVING DRIVER HANDBOOK CONTRACT IS NO. 1 "TURKEY"

Florida TaxWatch, the respected taxpayer watchdog organization, today labeled a legislative move to terminate the successful public-private partnership that prints Florida's Driver License Handbooks at no cost to taxpayers as a "Turkey" that Gov. Crist should veto. The $1.5 million measure was the first "Turkey" identified in the statement released by TaxWatch.

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. Florida TaxWatch has endorsed the plan, estimated to save $2.5 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.

But a little-noticed provision in this year's budget passed during the Legislative Session would terminate the project - forcing the state to implement a $1.5 million spending increase.

Gov. Crist has until Thursday, May 24 to veto the measure, or else the Department of Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles must destroy more than 1 million handbooks in inventory by June 30. Taxpayers would subsequently have to pay $250,000 to have the same 2007 handbooks reprinted without advertising, in addition to the $500,000 they must pay to print 2 million handbooks for 2008.

"As our state struggles with critical issues (including insurance premiums, property taxes and raging wildfires) it's difficult to understand why anyone would want to waste a million tax dollars on an expense that has already been paid for by the private sector," said Ken Underwood, president of the National Safety Commission. "I'm pleased that Florida TaxWatch has recognized this decision as a "Turkey," and Floridians should be grateful we have a Governor who demands that government live within its means and can veto this outrageous waste of public resources."

The public-private partnership, which dates to 2003, won the DHSMV a 2004 Davis Productivity Award - a benchmark of good government.

In 2005, DHSMV issued a public Invitation to Negotiate (ITN) to all Florida traffic school providers, informing them of the Department's desire to expand the program and select a private sector partner to bring an inventive approach to printing the new handbooks.

Though the Department actively solicited open, competitive bids for the public ITN, the National Safety Commission was the only company to submit a proposal. As part of the contract, the National Safety Commission agreed to print and supply more than 1.3 million Driver's Handbooks a year to the state, plus up to 750,000 additional handbooks specifically for distribution to high school students each spring, free of charge.

Since the original contract, the company has printed millions of Official Florida Driver's Handbooks, Official Florida Motorcycle Handbooks and Official Florida CDL Handbooks - all free of charge to the state. In addition, the company has printed and distributed Florida's first-ever Creole-language Driver's Handbook, developed a $50,000 handbook inventory tracking system, and provided 10 to 15 percent more handbooks than contractually obligated - all at no cost to state government.

The result of this innovative program has been both an improved service available to all Florida drivers and a large savings to state government and ultimately taxpayers.

Underwood went on to say, "Charlie Crist is a Ronald Reagan Republican who ran a campaign of less government, less taxes, and more freedom. This budget item is just the opposite; it's more government, more spending, and more regulations. I'm confident our Governor will adhere to his principles and veto this wasteful expenditure that fails to serve the public good and couldn't even stand the test of an open forum in our legislature."

In a letter to state Rep. Stan Jordan, R-Jacksonville, Florida TaxWatch said that aside from its concerns regarding how this issue found its way into the state budget, the taxpayer watchdog group has found that the contract termination runs afoul of several appropriate principles of good government, including:

* The Legislature ought not to unilaterally violate a state contract when the other party has met each of its obligations.

* There is no compelling state interest that we can determine for the state to unilaterally sever this contract.

* Terminating the existing contract without due process will result in the state having to pay the cost of producing the handbook.

* TaxWatch believes it is an improper procedural method to make or break state policy through budget proviso language, which only lasts for one year. It would appear more appropriate for the Legislature to make this change through the statute and not in proviso language.

In 2006, former Gov. Jeb Bush vetoed approximately $448 million in "Turkey" spending that legislators had injected into the Florida Budget.
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