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Mike Haridopolos concerned re: SunRail. Rick Scott's new staff chief in a bind

The strange politics of rail continue in Florida. Now, it's SunRail, the Central Florida commuter line approved in late 2009 by the Legislature. Current Senate President Mike Haridopolos voted for the project then. He's now a U.S. Senate candidate and has decided to raise fresh concerns about the project in a letter that puts Gov. Rick Scott on the spot.

Some tea party folks hate SunRail, and want Scott to block the project, just as he did with a high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando. The difference between the two projects: SunRail puts Florida taxpayers far more directly on the hook than high-speed rail.

But House Speaker Dean Cannon and the Central Florida power structure want SunRail desperately. And Scott's decision to cancel the project would be a political bombshell. So, in a perfect tea-party world, Scott would cancel it. But this isn't a perfect tea party world.

That's especially true for Haridopolos' former chief of staff, Steve MacNamara. As Haridopolos top exec, he would have approved the letter that highlights Scott's tough position. The letter was delivered yesterday. Today is MacNamara's first day on the job -- working as Scott's chief of staff. So now he has to explain to his new boss why he helped usher in this spot of controversy that the governor's office has to deal with.

Then there's Cannon. He has endorsed Haridopolos, but on the last day of session he put the Senate President through the ringer. Now, as Haridopolos moves a little to the right on the rail issue and takes the mantle of fiscal watchdog from Scott, he can enjoy a little incidental gigging of his counterpart in the Legislature. That's likely not Haridopolos' motivation, but it's a bit of a political-paybacks plus.

Here's the letter Download Sunrail_eog:

The Honorable Rick Scott
PL 05 The Capitol
400 South Monroe Street
Tallahassee, Florida 32399-0001
Dear Governor Scott,

With regard to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) recently announced intention to execute a Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA, or agreement) with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) for the purpose of developing the Central Florida Commuter Rail Transit Project (SunRail), I understand you are contemplating whether to continue the State’s support of the project as currently envisioned. Over the past few weeks a number of issues have been raised that have indicated that the conditions of the arrangement with the federal government may be different from the understanding that was originally reached in 2009. As you move toward this deadline, there are several questions that I believe are critical in reaching an appropriate decision on behalf of Florida’s taxpayers.

 With the knowledge that the agreement anticipates a funding scenario in which the Federal government is responsible for 50% of the project costs, the State is responsible for 25%, and the affected local governments are responsible for the remaining 25%, I inquire as to the consequences whereby one of the responsible parties fails to maintain their respective obligations. Specifically:

o Should the affected local governments fail to provide funds sufficient to meet its obligations to the project, what effect would this have on the financial obligations of the remaining FFGA signees? Would the funding necessary to complete the project become the responsibility of the State, the Federal government, or both? Would such responsibility be shared equally?

o Similarly, if the Federal Government should fail to transfer funds for the project in a timely manner, what effect would this have on the State and local governments’ responsibilities?

 It is my understanding that approximately $61 million in federal funding has already been allocated to the development of this project. If the State were to withdraw any further support of the SunRail project, would the State be required to repay these funds?

Further, I am requesting the opportunity to review the Summary Evaluation of Alternatives Analysis which has not yet been made available to my office.

Mike Haridopolos
President of the Senate