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Tea parties are brewin’ for fight over SunRail 'boondoggle'

The conservatives who call themselves tea party activists are overjoyed that Gov. Rick Scott smacked down President Obama’s $2.4 billion plan to help build a high-speed rail line from Tampa to Orlando. And Senate President Mike Haridopolos’ decision to back Scott and buck his own voting record and senate made it all the sweeter.

But the tea party folks aren’t done.

Tea party conservatives also want the state to scuttle the proposed Central Florida passenger-rail system known as SunRail, a pet project of Winter Park Republican Dean Cannon, the speaker of the Florida House who’s a zealous defender of the home-town project.

Cannon today said he backed Scott, but sources say he’s trying to make sure his home-town bacon doesn’t get thrown into the fire.

Some Republicans and tea party folks say SunRail is as big or bigger a boondoggle than high-speed rail.

 It costs almost as much as the proposed bullet train -- about $2.7 billion – and each would carry about the same number of passengers yearly, about 3 million. But SunRail requires more state and local money -- $1.4 billion – than high-speed rail, which could cost the state treasury about $300 million. And bullet-train backers say the private industry might pick up the tab. (handy-dandy side-by-side is here Download Sun&HSR) 

“Both of these are bad proposals. We just can’t afford them,” said Matthew Falconer, an activist who unsuccessfully ran for Orlando mayor and described SunRail as a ripoff.
“If Rick Scott kills Sun Rail as well he will go from politician to folk hero.”

Scott said little about SunRail on Friday.

“I’m clearly going to look at the SunRail project and make sure we’re getting a great return for the taxpayers of this state,” said Scott. He said the fact that some advisors and staffers have worked for CSX, which stands to profit from the SunRail deal, won’t affect him.

“I’m the governor, it’s my decision,” Scott said.

Americans for Prosperity, the tea party group that called on its members to back Scott, said SunRail needs to be scrutinized.

“High speed rail is a first step,” said Apryl Fogel, the group’s Florida director. “This gives us an opportunity to look at SunRail as well.”

Republican Greg Evers, R-Baker, said SunRail is worse than the bullet train:

“I agree with the Governor that High Speed Rail is a risk Florida simply cannot afford to take. That is why I voted against the High Speed Rail in Florida and I have been a vocal opponent all along. But I do not think the Governor has gone far enough because he did not kill the even bigger boondoggle that is SunRail. SunRail would immediately send over $660 million in statewide transportation funds – including funds originally designated for road projects in Northwest Florida – to fund an out-dated, unnecessary and, most importantly, operationally unfunded train.”