The new year brought encouraging news regarding a major case involving the defense of Miami-Dade County’s Home Rule charter, which is part of the Florida Constitution.
On December 30, 2021, the Honorable William Thomas of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Florida granted Miami-Dade County’s motion to join the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority (MDX) as an indispensable party in a lawsuit against the Greater Miami Expressway Agency (GMX) .
To put this in historical perspective, in 2019 the Florida Legislature created the Greater Miami Expressway Authority, effectively usurping MDX’s ownership interests in the five local freeways it purchased from the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) in 1996 for $91 million. These freeways include the 836/Dolphin Expressway, 112/Airport Expressway, 874/Don Shula Expressway, 878/Snapper Creek Expressway, and 924/Gratigny Parkway.
In response, on May 4, 2021, the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners under the leadership of President Jose “Pepe” Diaz, exercised its home rule authority and passed a county ordinance striking down certain unconstitutional sections of Florida statutes passed under the 2019 bill. The ordinance included eliminating GMX from county jurisdiction and transferring to MDX of all rights, benefits and revenues under the 1996 transfer agreement.
In his recent decision, Judge Thomas concluded that FDOT is not an indispensable party and has no remaining interest in the rights that have passed to MDX in perpetuity in exchange for payment. In addition, Judge Thomas recognizes Miami-Dade Home Rule powers that prohibit the Florida Legislature from enacting bills that apply only to Miami-Dade County, and that the county may take steps to declare any bill enacted in this manner unconstitutional and invalid.
Judge Thomas’ decision provides clarity and perspective by stating: “The rule of domicile [amendment and charter] transferred the power of the Legislature to pass local bills and special laws applicable only to Miami-Dade County, from the state to the Miami-Dade County Board of Commissioners.
Judge Thomas further explained that the Miami-Dade County Board of Commissioners “…has duly issued an order establishing MDX as the owner and operator of the system with all rights, benefits and revenues thereunder under the transfer agreement and abolishing GMX. This is well within the bounds of local authorities in Miami-Dade County and supports MDX’s high probability of success on the merits in the instant action.
During the 2021 vote on the county ordinance, Commissioner Joe Martinez explained that the intent of the ordinance was not just about MDX, but was to uphold the county’s right to self-government under the Constitution. from Florida. Not only did the order protect the Miami-Dade County Freeway Authority, but also major assets such as the airport and seaport that could become targets of a future takeover attempt by the ‘State.
This is not the first time a legislative attack on Home Rule has occurred. On September 4, 2002, the Florida Third District Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Miami-Dade County and struck down an unconstitutional state law intended to divert a portion of the health care surtax funds to the indigents of the Public Health Trust and Jackson Memorial Health Systems.
Judge Thomas’ recent ruling ends a three-year legal battle that has hurt the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority by preventing it from refinancing its existing debt during a period of historically low interest rates, representing a loss of approximately $175 million in interest. savings.
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