Thursday, February 17, 2011

Railroad Crossing

Gov. Rick Scott has told the U.S. Department of Transportation that Florida won’t take the billions it was offering for high-speed rail.

Never mind that the federal government was willing to pay nearly all the cost to build a high-speed rail line connecting Tampa to Orlando.

Never mind that private companies were willing to cover any additional construction costs and operating losses.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday rejected the federal government’s offer of $2.4 billion to build the line — prompting cheers from his tea party base, and harsh criticism from leading Florida Republicans and Democrats alike — squashing a project that has been decades in the making.

“The truth is that this project would be far too costly to taxpayers and I believe the risk far outweighs the benefits,” Scott said.

Reverberations from the stunning announcement were swift.

State legislators questioned if the governor had the authority to unilaterally kill high-speed rail, and members of Florida’s congressional delegation discussed with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood ways to circumvent Scott’s decision.

One possibility: Cut the state out of the equation and have cities along the rail line form a partnership to receive the federal dollars.

“We have DOT lawyers now researching to see how we can work around the governor’s decision,” said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat.

“We have to look at all these options,” said U.S. Rep. John Mica, the Winter Park Republican who chairs the transportation committee. “I am a persistent son-of-a-gun.”


Scott said he opted to reject the federal taxpayer money for three main reasons.

First, he predicted construction cost overruns would put Florida taxpayers on the hook for $3 billion.

Secondly, he said, low ridership would have required state subsidies.

And finally, he said, if the project was shut down, the state would have to return the $2.4 billion to Washington.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Transportation, though, said the state wouldn’t necessarily have had to pay back the money and the issue could have been negotiated if Scott had ever raised it with federal officials.

I think there’s a fourth reason: the money came from the Obama administration, and Gov. Scott would do anything, include kill off the possibility of more jobs created in building and maintaining the rail system, than look like he was cooperating with the Kenyan Mooslim Soshulist. If this proposal and $2.4 billion had come from a Republican administration, he would have been all over it.