The most blatant pandering possible was undertaken by Governor Ron DeSantis this week as he announced in Orlando. DeSantis claims the six-month program, essentially a toll rebate for frequent Sun Pass users, will save commuters an estimated $38 million.
Ironically, despite being announced in Orlando, most toll roads in Orange County are NOT covered by the program as it only applies to roads that are part of the Turnpike System or FDOT-owned.
“This program will help frequent SunPass customers keep more money in their pockets during a time of growing inflation,” said Governor Ron DeSantis. “Florida families who depend on these FDOT facilities for a timely commute to work will benefit from these savings. We will, of course, seek to enact greater savings for commuters in the next legislative session.”
Despite toll roads being a noose around Floridians, it can be also argued toll revenues are why Florida’s limited-access highways are arguably the best in the country. It’s a tough debate, and one where good people with the right intent can honestly disagree.
But importantly, this marks a 180 degree turn for Governor DeSantis who made the expansion of the Turnpike System one of his priorities of the first year he was in office. It was a controversial, but bold governing strategy meant to expand limited-access highways to more Floridiians, while creating more evacuation routes for Hurricane preparation. Many of us didn’t love the ideas, particularly the potential environmental impact but understood where DeSantis was coming from in a state growing by leaps and bounds.
His plan was to extend the Suncoast Parkway to the Georgia line, effectively making it a west coast Turnpike, build the long-contemplated Heartland Parkway from the Naples area toward Lakeland and extend the Florida Turnpike to US 19 (the legislature actually first authorized this in 1988, and reauthorized it multiple times – it has however NEVER been fully funded). Additionally, FDOT was working on or planning several bypass routes around smaller cities in the state.
The extension of the Turnpike to US 19 was quietly killed earlier this month and the Heartland Parkway appears dead as well, while the Suncoast Parkway extension is in serious danger of never happening. Local opposition, largely in GOP counties has impacted the discussions but more importantly, so has DeSantis turn from governing conservative in 2019, to populist in 2022.
The Governor’s flip on this issue is clear as populism is his motivator. He was a governing conservative trying to appeal to a broad constituency before COVID, but the ensuing Orbánesque turn made the Governor made into Autocratic performative artist. Playing populist and divider-in-chief, DeSantis pits neighbor against neighbor, friend against friend and Floridian against Floridian.
While the toll rebate on the surface may be a good idea, it’s further proof that DeSantis has completely changed for the worse while in office.