Governor Rick Scott has declined $2.4 billion in federal monies that would pay for one of those speedy, sleek, bullet train lines that would initially move people to and from Orlando and Tampa, and in its second phase would whip over to Miami to allow for access to the Miami airport.
This meant jobs. It meant money coming into Florida's economy at a time when the economy is hurting. Badly. That's in the short run.
In the long run, it meant a nice new transportation route that would improve our state and national infrastructure (let's not get started on how bad our roads, highways, rails, etc. are failing now - it's bad, we all know it) as well as build a better Florida marketplace. Land development would welcome this bullet train, it's exciting to think about (or it used to be).
Here's what is being bandied about today - criticism is running deep and fast:
From the Miami Herald in an editorial entitled, "Scott’s high-speed imprudence: OUR OPINION: Jobs-creating train deal merits bids not death," the Herald points out that not only is it arguable that Governor Scott lacks the constitutional power to make this call, but he is also "...putting his ideology before common sense...." The Herald estimates that Florida will lose the opportunity to put 14,000 people to work in the first phase, and 25,000 in the second phase of the proposed construction.
Susan Milligan of the U.S. News and World Report opines in her editorial, "Florida Gov. Rick Scott Plays Politics with High-Speed Rail Funds," that this can only be political stubborness on the part of Governor Scott, pushing the button on the deal simply because it has a "Stimulus from Obama" label on it.
She makes a very interesting point, taking facts from the Orlando Sentinel: seems there are companies in the private sector that have said they will pay the money needed to build both phases of the bullet train project - so there's really no money reason to say no to it. Milligan goes so far as to suggest that Governor Scott has an agenda to doom Obama's plan - or perhaps that he cannot view a life where we ride daily in public transportation instead of jumping into a car.
What is Governor Scott's position?
According to Bloomberg, he's joining with three other governors (all Republican) in rejecting the rail money because it means that taxpayers will have to be burdened with the expense.
Meanwhile, you can read the Governor's official statement here, where Scott explains his position, as follows, and decide for yourself if Florida just got kicked when it is down:
My decision to reject the project comes down to three main economic realities:
o First – capital cost overruns from the project could put Florida taxpayers on the hook for an additional $3 billion.
o Second – ridership and revenue projections are historically overly-optimistic and would likely result in ongoing subsidies that state taxpayers would have to incur. (from $300 million – $575 million over 10 years) – Note: The state subsidizes Tri-Rail $34.6 million a year while passenger revenues covers only $10.4 million of the $64 million annual operating budget.
o Finally – if the project becomes too costly for taxpayers and is shut down, the state would have to return the $2.4 billion in federal funds to D.C.
• The truth is that this project would be far too costly to taxpayers and I believe the risk far outweighs the benefits.
• Historical data shows capital cost overruns are pervasive in 9 out of 10 high speed rail projects and that 2/3 of those projects inflated ridership projections by an average of 65 percent of actual patronage.
• It is projected that 3.07 million people will use the train annually. Keep in mind that Amtrak’s Acela train in Washington, D.C., Boston, Philadelphia, New York and Baltimore only had 3.2 million riders in 2010. And that market’s population is 8 times the size of the Tampa/Orlando market.
• President Obama’s high-speed rail program is not the answer to Florida’s economic recovery.
• We must make investments in areas where we will get a return for the shareholders – Florida’s taxpayers.
• Rather than investing in a high-risk rail project, we should be focusing on improving our ports, rail and highway infrastructure to be in a position to attract the increased shipping that will result when the Panama Canal is expanded when the free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama are ratified and with the expansion of the economies of Central and South America.
• By capturing a larger share of containerized imports entering our seaports, expanding export markets for Florida businesses and emerging as a global hub for trade and investment we can create up to an additional 143,000 jobs according to a recent chamber of commerce study.
• It is absolutely critical that we make smart investments with taxpayer dollars, whether state or federal, and I believe our state will be better served by spending these funds on projects that will benefit Florida and not turn into a spending boondoggle.
• The answer is to reduce government spending, cut government’s leash on our state’s job creators and then hold that government accountable for the investments it makes.