homepage logo

Editorial | Unsolicited bid bill opens door to abuse

By Staff | Mar 7, 2024

The Florida State Legislature has passed a bill that could change the way government entities like the city of Cape Coral process unsolicited proposals for public-private partnerships, also called P3s.

Sent to the Governor’s Office on Monday, CS/HB 781 is among the legislation awaiting the signature or veto of Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Basically, the bill would allow cities, counties and other governmental bodies that receive unsolicited proposals for partnership projects “in the public’s best interest” to process those proposals “without engaging in a public bidding process,” a current requirement.

The legislation also changes public noticing requirements when an unsolicited proposal is submitted should governments opt for this alternative. The current requirement that notice be published in the Florida Administrative Register, a newspaper of general circulation and mailed to each affected local government in the affected area, would be eliminated and replaced with alternate publication in just the state register.

According to the bill analysis, governments “will no longer be required to provide notice of accepting additional bids” nor will they be required to “rank received proposals in order of preference,” a current requirement as unsolicited proposals currently trigger a process for soliciting and then evaluating additional bids, if any.

There is a condition, however.

To “abstain from the public bidding process,” the legislation requires that the unsolicited proposal must be presented at a noticed public meeting during which affected public entities and members of the public may provide comment. Also required is a second noticed public hearing to determine whether the proposal is in the public’s interest.

If signed by the governor, the legislation would become law on July 1.

The measure passed with nary a ripple — unanimously in the House and 37-2 in the Senate.

It has received the support from Florida TaxWatch.

“Government procurement moves slowly, and Florida TaxWatch recommends infrastructure proposals should be fast-tracked when a private entity is sharing the financial risks and the project is in the public interest,” the organization said in its Week 9 Legislative Update posted to its website, floridataxwatch.org, on Monday.

We understand their support.

But let us point out the very real downside: Opening the door to unsolicited proposals while offering the option to close the door on competing bids is an invitation to those who see a benefit in being the front-runner — in fact, the only runner — for projects with a planned P3 component.

It’s likely to be viewed as simply “good business.”

Especially for those with an inside track.

Consider: The public benefit aspect has de facto acknowledgement from the government entity — why else would it be on the table?

All one would need to do to close the field to free-market competition is submit a plan that hands the government essentially what it thinks it wants and maybe a check to cover the staff review process.

The governor’s pen could open the door to a wave of “unsolicited” bids for a plethora of projects.

Potential P3s right here at home?

The Lee County Civic Center immediately comes to mind.

So does the city’s Yacht Club Park with its $100 million-plus rebuild in the works.

There are, in fact, potential P3s for numerous planned and in-development city parks including Crystal Lake, Lake Meade and Yellow Fever Creek with its campgrounds.

We’d like to think the public meeting requirement attached to the no-bid option would provide the transparency lacking in the current process.

But we don’t.

The unsolicited proposal for Jaycee Park remains in a “cone of silence” as the city processes it under the current statute, which required requests for bids. Though there were none by the Jan. 26 deadline for the P3 “revenue-sharing opportunity for operation of the food truck and bar amenities,” the city remains mum as it negotiates for features many residents have adamantly opposed.

Meanwhile, the city is working on a P3 for Lake Kennedy where a proposal has been received for “management” of the new tennis and pickleball courts with little definitive information on how much it’s going to cost to pay-to-play.

Let us be clear: We do not oppose P3s.

They can and they do work.

Numerous large-scale transportation and other projects statewide have been made possible through P3s.

The city itself has at least two good working examples.

The Kerns Restaurant Group LLC not only invested but reinvested, rebuilding the Boathouse Tiki Bar & Grill at the Yacht Club following Hurricane Ian.

ProParks Attractions Group, which manages the city-owned Sun Splash Family Waterpark, has made numerous infrastructure improvements to the facility.

This legislation, however, provides too much opportunity for abuse.

Nor does it define a trigger point for the transparency it touts.

We urge Gov. DeSantis to veto this bill.

Breeze editorial