A special lawmaking session over high-speed and commuter rail inched closer Monday as legislative leaders and the governor said they were ready to tap surplus money discovered in the transportation budget rather than raise taxes on rental cars.
The surplus money -- about $76 million for the current and next budget years -- should be enough to help fill a hole in South Florida's Tri-Rail system.
Also Monday, opposition to Central Florida's SunRail project started to thaw in the Florida Senate, where the transit system could now be one vote shy of winning passage, according to a Herald/Times vote count.
Among the switched votes: Democratic leader Al Lawson of Tallahassee and Republican Steve Wise of Jacksonville. Newly elected Sen. John Thrasher, who was a chief lobbyist for SunRail last year, replaced SunRail opponent Jim King. And Tony Hill, D-Tallahassee, missed the vote last year but said he was "leaning toward'' voting in favor of the rail package.
Federal transportation officials have told Florida officials that the state needs to do a better job supporting Tri-Rail and SunRail to have a better chance at winning up to $2.5 billion in federal money for a high-speed rail project.
The federal government has been besieged with requests from various states for high-speed rail money. And U.S. Department of Transportation spokespeople said Florida's support for the commuter rail systems are just a "factor'' in awarding the grant, which is not "contingent'' on Tri-Rail and SunRail.