These are the first Golden Fleece Awards I’ve given for quite some time. That doesn’t mean that public officials have made less stupid decisions, or done less stupid things, since the last Award – quite the contrary – it merely means that I haven’t been paying as much attention to them as I should. To make up for my lack of vigilance, I am giving two Awards this week. The Golden Fleece Award #4 goes to the Spanish Ministry of Transportation, and the Golden Fleece Award #5 goes to Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis.
In 2020, the Spanish Ministry of Transportation issued a formal bid request for the provision of new trains to be run under the country’s official rail operator, RENFE. I should add that RENFE has a high-speed rail network that runs throughout the Iberian Peninsula and is, in essence, a division of the Ministry.
The bid document contained all the specifications for the new trains. So, the successful manufacturer just had to build them, which is the normal process for government acquisitions in Spain. The contract was overseen by ADIF, the government’s Infrastructure Operator. The cost of the project was estimated at 260 million euros (US$275m), and the trains were to be delivered in 2024.
The contact was duly awarded to CAR, one of the largest transportation companies in the world, based in Beasain, Spain. Work began.
At some point early on in the contract, someone in CAR (he or she should be given a medal and a large salary increase) realized that something was wrong with the specifications they’d been given.
The railway system in some mountain areas of the northern states of Asturias and Canabria had been built in the 19th century – not unusual for many European railway networks. That system included many tunnels hacked by hand through mountains.
The problem, this switched-on employee of CAR found, was that the specifications they received from the government included a train width that would not fit through these tunnels. It’s almost funny, if it wasn’t tragic, although I sincerely doubt that the incident is uncommon in government bids all over the world. Heads have rolled, including the Minister of Transportation. The project delivery date has been put back two years.
One can only smile thinking about what would have happened if no-one had caught the mistake and the first train – hopefully a test run with no passengers – had tried entering one of those tunnels.
The Golden Fleece Award #5 goes to Ron DeSantis for his decision to abolish the special tax district of Disney in Florida.
DeSantis abolished the Reedy Creek Improvement District in a fit-of-pique over something Disney said that he disagreed with. How dare they go against someone who was sent by God to save the United States, as his wife has described him?
The abolition of the special district was done quickly, with great fanfare, playing to Republican voters not only in Florida but also nationwide: It was part of the build-up to the expected announcement of his candidacy for President in 2024.
The law was passed by his “pet” state legislature, and is currently in effect.
What DeSantis’ enthusiastic, egotistical and arrogant action totally forgot to take into consideration was that the Disney tax district carried a $1.2 billion bond. The servicing of that bond, without the special districting, transfers to 700,000 homes and businesses in Orange and Osceola counties. It doesn’t get paid off until 2038, and those homes and businesses would each have to pay thousands of dollars more in taxes every year. Pure arrogant stupidity.
DeSantis is currently trying hard to back-pedal by passing yet another new law to correct this error.
One can only hope that the American people not only learn about the character of this man but take it into account when the time comes for voting.