Sen. Carey Baker announced tonight that he was stripping down the most controversial items in his massive transportation bill, leaving only the bare minimum issues and eliminating out CSX.
"We have a lot of important issues in that bill that we’d like to ensure passage,'' he said. "So this will help sort of clean that up to help move through that.”
Taken out was the agreement to pay CSX $450 million to buy 61 miles of rail line for an Orlando commuter rail, limitations on liability for CSX, the $2-a-day rental car surcharge to expand and avoid service cuts.
Left in was a plan to allow Miami-Dade County and the City of Miami the ability to regulate mural-sized advertising on high-rise buildings; a bill to penalize drivers charged with Road Rage, and a 25 percent increase in state-run toll roads; and $500 million to lease Alligator Alley .
Sen. Dan Webster, the chief sponsor of the CSX deal in the Senate, said the decision to abandon the commuter line deal was borne of pragmatic politics. "Time is running out,'' he said. "I don't know if there's enough time even now.'' He admitted he wouldn't get the two-thirds vote needed to put the House CSX bill on the calendar. He said he still wants the Alligator Alley lease and toll increases. "I hope we can get them.''
The debate isn't quite over. Sen. J.D. Alexander said he will propose an amendment to Baker's transportation bill that will strip the sovereign immunity protections from Tri-Rail as well as the $45 million in state funding to "talk about the issues and balance the debate,'' he said.
His point: if giving Tri-Rail immunity from lawsuits is good enough for South Florida's commuter rail, it should be good enough for Central Florida's rail line. "I hope we build commuter rail, first in Orlando then in most of the urban areas of our state,'' he said. "They policy should be the same everywhere.''