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Scott's rejection of high speed rail hands win to tea party and defeat to some GOP allies

In a major victory for the tea party movement and a defeat for many of his GOP supporters, Gov. Rick Scott said Wednesday that he will reject $2.4 billion in federal money to pay for a high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando.

"Government has become addicted to spending beyond its means and we cannot continue this flawed policy," Scott said at a hastily-called press conference this morning.

After announcing his state budget proposal at a tea party rally in Eustis, Scott met with a pair of tea party leaders in his office for 30 minutes last week. Their top priority: derail the high-speed rail project.

Scott's decision drew immediate rebukes from Democratic lawmakers and the Republican chairman of the Congressional Transportation Committee, U.S. Rep. John Mica, who said he was "deeply disappointed' in Scott's decision.

House Speaker Dean Cannon, who worked last year to include the Tampa to Orlando high speed rail line, issued a statement but did not respond to the governor's decision.

“I'm encouraged that he is focusing on the practical realities of government programs, and their long-term impacts,'' Cannon said in a statement, noting that he hadn't spoken to the governor about the issue. "As the Constitutional officer charged with carrying out transportation policy, the Governor seems to have determined that at this time he cannot feasibly implement high-speed rail in Florida.  I have confidence that he will bring the same level of scrutiny to other issues.”

Scott said his decision was based on "three main economic realities":

  • First – capital cost overruns from the project could put Florida taxpayers on the hook for an additional $3 billion.
  • Second – ridership and revenue projections are historically overly-optimistic and would likely result in ongoing subsidies that state taxpayers would have to incur. (from $300 million - $575 million over 10 years) – Note: The state subsidizes Tri-Rail $34.6 million a year while passenger revenues covers only $10.4 million of the $64 million annual operating budget.
  • Finally – if the project becomes too costly for taxpayers and is shut down, the state would have to return the $2.4 billion in federal funds to D.C.

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

Many of Scott's early supporters, including Lakeland Sen. Paula Dockery, had urged the governor to keep an open mind about the project as they sought private companies to finance the state portion of the project. Scott said that his conversations with those companies failed to dissuade him that, if something went wrong, the state would still be obligated to pay the federal government $2.4 billion. 

Rep. Hazelle Rogers, a Lauderdale Lakes Democrat, called Scott's decision a "jobs-killing'' development.

“Designing and constructing the proposed Tampa to Orlando high-speed rail project that federal and state agencies recommended would create thousands of needed jobs and help rebuild our state’s economy,'' Rogers said in a statement. “Transportation modernization helps Florida compete in the ever-growing global economy. I’m appalled by Governor Scott’s shortsighted thinking and his decision to choose politics and ideology over job creation for Florida."

-- Michael C. Bender contributed to this report

Comments

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chris ingram

Thank goodness! Finally a real leader who knows the difference between wants and needs.

grateful in the west

Here in Washington state, we are delighted to hear that we will have more money than expected for our high speed rain. Thanks a lot, Governor Scott! We will put your gift to good use, put people to work, and get a needed improvement to our infrastructure.

grateful in the west

While we do have high speed rain, that should have been high speed rail.

Disgusted in Miami

How does Scott think he'll attract jobs to a state he's running into the ground?

Infrastructure is a mess, the school system is going to collapse, and he's killing jobs left right and center.

WC Green

'Grateful in the west' is welcome to the money. When he/she realizes that the Federal subsidies necessary to keep high-speed rail running won't be available, he/she may regret being thrilled.

If the Federal government wants a make-work project to get people back to work, it should take into consideration the skillset of the current unemployed and tailor the project to both their abilities and the demands of the consumers. High-speed rail fits neither one.

grateful in the west

Mr. Green, keep drinking the Tea Party Kool-Aid. And watch Florida revert to what it was before the roads were paved.

WC Green

It's Ms Green. Never assume.

I have no problem with large projects; the Public Works Administration in the 1930s was a god-send to the men it employed, and its projects (like the Grand Coulee Dam, which irrigated Central Washington farms and produced electricity for Seattle's industries) were, for the most part, intelligent and effective.

High-speed rail will not have the same positive results as those projects did. We need something with real potential to change society for the better. How about inexpensive space launch facilities or people-mover systems for suburban areas (ever think about what happened when millions of baby-boomers have to give up driving? We don't have enough buses and taxis to handle that need.)

Build something to fit the needs we have, not the wants of some.

Michael Lewis

Thank you for an intelligent decision Governor Scott. I gave you my vote and now you have earned it.

I could not figure out who was going to ride this train daily between Orlando and Tampa.

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