Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signs bill into law that curbs administrative spending for JTA

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis took major action on Wednesday after an Action News Jax investigative series into the Jacksonville Transportation Authority.

He was in Polk City to sign a transportation bill. It deals with the funding of transportation projects and leaves room along the Interstate 4 corridor for commuter rail.


But buried deep in that bill is a specific clause bringing major changes in how JTA spends your money.

Action News Jax investigator Emily Turner has reported on JTA’s more than generous executive salaries, extensive and expensive travel, and big spending on lobbyists and consultants. This legislation takes aim at just that, forcing the local transportation agency to cut millions of dollars from its administrative costs. That includes things like salaries and benefits and corporate travel.

RELATED: 2021 emails show FDOT concerns over Jacksonville Transportation Authority’s autonomous vehicle plan

The bill’s sponsor, Representative Shane Abbot, calls it trimming the fat.

“If we have exorbitant expenditures on admin fees,” he said, “whatever that might be -- could be salaries or other sectors -- we want to make sure we are reining that in.”

RELATED: House passes Florida bill that would curb JTA administrative spending

At JTA, those costs have ballooned. We checked JTA’s budget, and its administrative budget increased by almost $6 million in the last fiscal year, amounting to more than $33 million.

Now, they will have to cut about $10 million out of it. We asked JTA how it plans to do that. A spokesperson sent a statement that reads, in part, “We are currently building the FY 2025 budget. Now that the bill has been signed, we anticipate the State will give guidance to all of the transit agencies this legislation is applicable to.”

The bill calculates the average administrative cost for agencies of similar size and limits them from spending more than 20% of that. According to a spreadsheet sent out by the Florida Public Transportation Association, the state’s average is 24.61%. JTA is currently way above that, spending more than a third (37%) of its overall budget on administrative costs.

RELATED: Florida bill may bring sweeping changes to JTA after Action News Jax investigation

That’s exactly why Abbot said he sponsored the bill.

“If we are giving money for public transportation,” he said, “that’s where it should be going. We’re trying to transport the public with that.”

According to the Florida Department of Transportation, only Orlando’s SunRail and South Florida’s Tri-Rail are exempt from the new law. Yet for months, multiple sources told Action News Jax JTA’s CEO, Nat Ford, has been telling the board JTA is also exempt.

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It has been discussed multiple times, but the minutes for January’s work session where this was specifically discussed are still not published, though it’s required to by law. It was also mentioned in a March work session by one of JTA’s executive vice presidents, which Action News Jax personally attended last week.

When Action News Jax asked JTA to explain the conflict, a spokesman said, “The JTA has been aware throughout the process that HB 1301 applies to JTA …” but also knew the bill carved out “engineering and construction costs as part of the considerations.”

So we went to DeSantis to settle the matter. Action News Jax had a fellow reporter at that Polk City press conference specifically ask him if this bill applies to JTA.

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Here’s what he said:

“It does. All these transportation authorities, both regional and local. And I think it’s going to lead to a lot of accountability.”

To be clear, this doesn’t strip money away from JTA, it just mandates how it can and can’t spend it.

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