Scott: Rail Shouldn’t Roll Until Feds Pay Full Fare
By Keith Laing
The News Service Of Florida
THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, Oct. 26, 2010……As Florida transportation officials celebrated getting another $800 million in federal money for a long-in-the-works bullet train, Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott said in a Monday debate that the train should not be built unless the federal government provides the remainder of the $2.6 billion the project is expected to cost.
With Monday’s announcement, the federal government has put more than $2 billion into the project, and backers say the remainder could from the federal government next year. But Scott said Monday that the state should not contribute to the train at all, which Florida advocates once successfully had added to the state constitution.
“Every project we do, we have to get return for taxpayers,” Scott said in the debate in Tampa Monday night against Democratic candidate Alex Sink. “So the way I look at it, on the high-speed rail, if the federal government is going to fund all of it, and there’s no — there’s nothing … (that’s) going to cost the state any money, let’s look at it.”
Opponents once successfully argued that the train would cost too much, and rail opponents often point out that trains usually struggle to generate enough revenue through ridership to sustain themselves. Scott said those issues should be looked at again before the train is built.
“Let’s look at a final feasibility study. Let’s look at exactly what the state is responsible for,” he said. “But if you’re going to build an office … you wouldn’t say, ‘I’m going to go build half of it with the money and wait and see, hopefully, somebody is going to show up with the rest.’ We shouldn’t be doing that with any projects like rail. Let’s make sure we have all of the money.”
Scott also needled Sink for supporting plans to extend the train – now planned for Orlando to Tampa – eventually to Miami, which is not included in the $2.6 billion estimate. Separately, Florida was also granted $8 million to plan an eventual extension of the high speed rail to Miami, which backers envision completing a couple years after the initial leg opens.
“She’s committed to do it, but has no funding mechanism,” Scott said of Sink. “There’s only one funding mechanism: increase taxes, and that’s what she’ll do.”
Sink was not given a chance to address the high speed rail during the debate, but her campaign has touted her support for the project.
“Alex supports plans for future high-speed and commuter rail lines, and will partner with the Florida Rail Enterprise to fulfill and extend Florida’s comprehensive rail vision,” her campaign Website says.
Sink’s campaign didn’t respond to requests from the News Service of Florida for comment on her position on whether the train should be put on hold if the federal government does not provide the rest of the funding, or how she thinks it should be paid for.
Scott’s comments echoed statements made recently by Republican U.S. Senate candidate Marco Rubio, who has also said the state should not chip in on the train.
“What I’m opposed to is borrowing money to pay for it,” Rubio said. “I think we have a huge $13.5 trillion debt in this country, and I don’t think we can continue to borrow money on top of that.”
Rubio has been criticized sharply for his stance on the high speed rail by his opponents, Democrat Kendrick Meek and Gov. Charlie Crist, who is running as an independent. Crist and Meek have both touted the train as a job creator.
Rubio is “willing to make sure people from Tampa to Orlando to Daytona to South Florida sit in traffic for the next 20 years,” Meek said in a previous debate.
The rhetoric from a potential Republican governor and potential U.S. senator are a sharp contrast from the current officeholders, who both vocally supported the project. Crist, when he was still a Republican, called lawmakers into a special session to approve an unrelated commuter train in Orlando that federal officials had tied to funding for the high speed rail.
He prodded Republican-led leaders in the recalcitrant Senate to approve the SunRail commuter rail project in central Florida, and claimed credit when Florida won $1.25 billion of $8 billion set aside in the federal economic stimulus package for high speed rail.
The SunRail proposal passed the Florida House in 2008, when Rubio was speaker of the House, but the plan languished for a year-and-a-half in the Senate until Crist called the special session. The money for that train, which is included in the Department of Transportation’s 2008-2013 spending plan, would come from state coffers.
If the high speed rail is eventually fully funded, it is expected to begin operating in 2015. The state Department of Transportation has announced it will begin advertising construction projects for the project next month.
Detailed context on Florida transportation issues is available on the NSF Transportation Backgrounder at http://www.newsserviceflorida.com/transportation/transportation.htm.
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