Scott Stands Firm Against Rail as Veto-Proof Goes Poof

By: Keith Laing, The News Service of Florida
By: Keith Laing, The News Service of Florida

Tallahassee, FL - While backers rallied Monday in Tampa and officials in Washington continued working on plans that did not involve state approval, Gov. Rick Scott reiterated his objection to accepting federal money for high speed rail in central Florida, even if the state is not involved.

And the effort by lawmakers to go around Scott’s objection was weakened when one of the 26 state senators who signed a letter opposing Scott’s move changed his mind. Twenty-six was a veto-proof number in the Senate, but with the defection of Sen. Greg Evers, that’s no longer the case.

But even so, Scott told reporters Monday in Tallahassee that he was doubtful a plan could emerge that would satisfy his concerns over the long-sought Tampa-to-Orlando project, for which the federal government had offered to pay $2.4 billion of the roughly $2.7 billion projected cost.

“As you know, I’ve said all along I don’t believe that there is anyway the taxpayers of the state should be on the hook for the operational cost of that or for the risks if it gets shut down,” Scott said Monday. “I don’t see any way to do that.”

Over the weekend, rail advocates had hoped that Scott was leaving the door open to the possibility of allowing them to accept the money. A spokesman for U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said the Democrat came away from a joint appearance with Scott at the Daytona 500 convinced the governor would at least look at the plans being crafted.

However, Scott appeared Monday to put the horse back in the barn.

"Despite efforts by many to re-open the door to high speed rail, my position has not changed,” he posted on his Facebook page, on which he has almost 60,000 friends.

Meanwhile, Evers, R-Baker, said he regretted signing the letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood last week that suggested that two statewide rail panels set up by the Legislature could accept the $2.4 billion Scott rejected.

“As a representative of the people of Florida Senate District 2, I do hereby remove my signature on the letter you received on Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011, regarding funding for High Speed Rail,” Evers wrote to LaHood. “Let me be very clear. I do not want to spend one dime on High Speed Rail and I absolutely support Gov. Scott sending the money back. I regret signing the letter as I believe it misconstrued my position on High Speed Rail.

“I was trying to send a message to Gov. Scott to bring to the forefront my firm belief that we should not fund any rail projects with state or federal money,” Evers concluded.

Evers also suggested that Scott put the brakes on a separate proposed commuter train in Orlando, SunRail, which the governor has said he is currently reviewing. Without Evers on board, lawmakers in the Florida Senate lose the implied possibility of overriding a veto of any rail legislation or budget line items they pass.

However, another plan emerged Monday that would not involve lawmakers in Tallahassee at all. The plan, which U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor detailed to reporters, would call for the creation of a new independent agency with representatives from the local jurisdictions that would house the proposed 84-mile train.

A separate plan from Orlando Congressman John Mica, the chairman of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure committee, would have called for the first leg of the train to be shortened to 21 miles between the Orlando Airport to the city’s convention center and Disney World to prove the viability of the train to Scott. That plan appeared to never get rolling with U.S. transportation officials, however.

An afternoon “Rally for Rail” in Tampa was said to have drawn about 200 people, though opponents of the project ran a counter-rally to convince Scott to stand firm against the project. The event was co-sponsored by former Tampa City Councilwoman Linda Saul-Sena and the Livable Tampa Roundtable group.

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  • by GV Location: Ga on Feb 23, 2011 at 04:55 AM
    It will save Fl money by not having to keep a train going that no body will be riding.How much sense does it make to build this to run from orlando to tampa?Who in there right mind is going to go to orlando to ride a train to tampa?Is anybody from tally going to do that?Are you going to do that?How many people ride the amtrac?Is it successful?
  • by Worried on Feb 22, 2011 at 08:16 PM
    For someone who wants to create jobs in Florida is sure in the heck not doing it. I see and hear of way to many people losing their jobs because he is too busy firing everyone and the one thing that can bring jobs to our state, he VETOS. IDIOT GET OUT OF OFFICE and let someone who actually cares come in and actually CREATE JOBS.
  • by JM on Feb 22, 2011 at 06:30 PM
    Well said, Sam.
  • by JM on Feb 22, 2011 at 04:19 PM
    Charlie from Orlando: Although I agree with your points, I'm originally from Gadsden County and thus feel obligated to offer you a bit of constructive advice. If you are going to ridicule rural folks for their lack of intelligence, you should avoid butchering the English language in the process. It's hard to know where to start, but I'd say you really distinguished yourself by using the word "since" when you meant "sense". A rather ironic mistake, I must say. And please know that I would very much like to explain the structural problem with your last sentence, but I only have a little over 200 characters left. At any rate, thanks so much for showing off your downstate sophistication. It gave me quite the chuckle.
  • by Sam on Feb 22, 2011 at 03:43 PM
    Hang in there Rick! This is another Amtrack fiasco, and the Florida taxpayers can't afford to keep it running even if the feds (still our tax money) paid all construction costs.
  • by Mike Location: Tallahassee on Feb 22, 2011 at 02:05 PM
    Anonymous@3:59: cogent: appealing forcibly to the mind or reason : convincing . As a service to you I provide the definition. Private industires(?) signed contracts to cover costs? Do you mean cost overruns or operating costs. I doubt either would be fully covered.
  • by Anonymous on Feb 22, 2011 at 01:02 PM
    GV Simple question for you. How has Scott's decision saved the USA one penny?
  • by Anonymous on Feb 22, 2011 at 12:59 PM
    GV I don't work for the state and I am not on government assistance. But, I am smart enough to know that Florida turning down this money does not mean it will not be spent. It will be spent in another state. Since the Fed is paying for 90% of this and private industry is contractually obligated to cover any losses during operation of the line and construction overages, you don't seem so smart saying gimme, gimme, gimme. Pull your head out of the sand. Scott has not saved this country one thin dime. Surely you know that federal dollars that are budgeted for transportation projects HAVE to be spent on transportation projects. If not in Florida then another state. Mike, your post is definately not "cogent" (coherant?), whatever that means. Have you missed the info that private industires (ie Disney, Universal and others) have signed contracts to cover costs? I would not compare this progect to boston's big dig. About the only thing they have in common is federal funding.
  • by Anonymous on Feb 22, 2011 at 12:36 PM
    Charlie go to Wikipedia and look up your gov Rick Scott. There is a wealth of info dating all the back to the 90's. GV, stay in Georgia and mind your own business. You got enough problems to worry about.
  • by Mike Location: Tallahassee on Feb 22, 2011 at 10:47 AM
    Perhaps some of you have seen a government project finish on time and within it's projected budget but, I never have. High speed rail would end up being Florida's answer to Boston's big dig. It is always possible to tell how weak the argument is on the pro rail side by the invective included in many of their postings. A few are cogent and to the point most are not.
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