High speed rail not dead yet in Florida

  • Published on February 21st, 2011

The pandering and posturing continue on high-speed rail.

In Florida, Tea Party-backed governor Rick Scott ended weeks of dithering Wednesday and outright rejected the $2.4 billion in Federal funding for the Orlando to Tampa line, calling it a “boondoggle” the state couldn’t afford in these tough times.

He follows in the footsteps of GOP anti-rail ideological hardliners in Wisconsin, Ohio, and New Jersey. In the process, he backed out of his own pledge to actually study the issue, and just said “No”.

Or did he? Ray LaHood, the US Transportation Secretary, said he’ll give Florida until February 25th to get its act together.

State Rep. John Mica has a plan. One of the many Republicans who have been pushing this project for years (and annoyed as hell that Scott waltzed in at the 11th hour and blithely blew it all up), on Friday Mica proposed a scaled-back run that would just connect Orlando International Airport, the Orange County Convention Center and Walt Disney World.

At barely 21 miles, this stretch of rail would definitely turn a profit, and could be expanded down to Tampa… some day. In the meantime, the Mickey Mouse run would be a small enough project it could be handled by the counties it runs through, meaning it could evade Governor Scott’s chainsaw.

But with no more than a stub of a project, how much of the federal funding would still be on the table? That remains to be seen. If Florida doesn’t get its act together, the rail money would go elsewhere – California is all fired up on high speed rail, and would be happy to take the grant.


Why is the Tea Party wing of the Republican party pushing draconian austerity now? The last time they tried that was under Herbert Hoover, and it turned the stock market crash of ’29 into the Great Depression of the ’30s. But Scott – whose previous business experience involved steering the hospital company he helmed into the biggest Medicare fraud judgement in US history – is adamant. (For background, see: Will Florida Choose Anti-Train Ideology Over Job Creation?)

And Scott does seem to think that Florida can afford a total elimination of the state income tax on large Corporations.

But nationally, conservatives have made a fetish out of opposition to high speed rail, while President Obama has backed it as a way of short-term job creation and long-term infrastructure growth.

This was going to be the showpiece: The first line to be complete, in 2016. Private companies have already stepped in, promising to cover any cost overruns or deficits. The project was shovel-ready and set to go when Scott pulled the plug – simply to spite the President?

Florida’s very conservative new voice in Washington, Republican Senator Marco Rubio, backed Scott.

But Florida’s ex-Governor, Jeb Bush, was “puzzled”. So were most of the Republicans in the state legislature. “This is like holding a gun to our heads and telling the federal government: Don’t give us this money or we’ll blow our brains out,” Republican State Sen. David Simmons told the St. Petersburg Times. (via)

As the New York Times editorialized today,

There is no sound economic justification for the decision by Gov. Rick Scott of Florida to reject $2.4 billion in federal financing for the vital Tampa-to-Orlando high-speed rail project. Political pandering to his Tea Party supporters is the only explanation we can come up with.

…The 90 percent federal share was nevertheless rejected by Mr. Scott, whose deliberations included a 30-minute meeting with Tea Party opponents of the project. Instead of waiting for a state study, as he had promised, Mr. Scott offered his own pound-foolish bromides, as he insisted that Florida would not chip in $280 million. He contended that state taxpayers could ultimately be on the hook for the whole project — but had no evidence to support that claim.

“I don’t see any way anyone is going to get a return,” he insisted, ignoring the fact that sponsors included eight business consortiums from 11 countries. They saw opportunities rolling from the Orlando airport to downtown Tampa, Orange County, Walt Disney World and Lakeland.

Maybe it’s just plain old-fashioned incompetence.

Writing at WTSP news, Adam Freeman mockingly speculates that Scott is considering a Presidential run… based on the fact that the newly-minted Governor was pushing national media interviews while his office was failing to call back local reporters who had questions. “10 News called the governor’s office Friday asking if he has an interest in running for President and, once again, there’s been no response.”

More on high speed rail:

About the Author

Jeremy Bloom is the Editor of RedGreenAndBlue. He lives in New York, where he combines his passion for the environment with his passion for film, and is working on making the world a better place.
  • Are there statistics on estimated ridership? While I think that “boondoggle” is a bit strong for the project, it is a lot of money to invest.

  • Pingback: Florida Gov. Rick Scott Gets Sued for Stupidity Regarding High-Speed Rail – Planetsave.com: climate change and environmental news()

  • A high speed train to Disney World, what could possibly be wrong with that? I would love to know what is really at the root of the Tea Party’s opposition. I don’t for a minute believe it’s their worry about the deficit. Debt has been piling up for years and Republican policies have done nothing but add to it. Could it be that Obama might get credit if it succeeds? Perhaps they should consider naming it the “Ronald Reagan Memorial High Speed Railroad”. That should get some fence sitters on board.