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Sunrail moves along, but just barely

As expected, a Senate appropriations committee on Monday approved the Sunrail commuter rail venture on a nip and tuck 4 to 3 vote, sending it to Senate Ways and Means and, beyond that, a big fight on the Senate floor. 

But the Senate sought to link passage of the Sunrail commuter train to one of the major differences with the House on next year's budget: a raid on the transportation fund. The House's budget proposal diverts about $420-million in cash from the DOT fund to avoid larger spending cuts in programs such as schools and health care.

In the Senate, a state transportation official said the House's trust fund raid would force Sunrail to be delayed. "The project would need to be deferred -- as well as many other projects," DOT's Kevin Thibault told senators, in response to questions by the panel's chairman, Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey. Fasano is one of the strongest protectors in the Legislature of the transportation trust fund. 

Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, voted for the bill after it was added to include money for Tri-Rail in his district, said: "This is still a very ugly bill ... It's not a bill that has to be killed dead today."

-- Steve Bousquet