UPDATE: Florida gets more time for high-speed railby Dara Kam | February 25th, 2011
UPDATE: Lest there be any confusion about where Gov. Rick Scott stands on the issue, the governor used the Web’s social networks to make it clear.
@FLGovScott directed followers to his Facebook site with this Tweet: “My position remains the same on High Speed Rail http://on.fb.me/eaEoiD”
Here’s Rick Scott’s Facebook message:
“My position on High Speed Rail remains unchanged. I believe High Speed Rail is a federal boondoggle, as I said more than a week ago. This morning I communicated to Secretary LaHood that as long as Florida remains on the hook for cost overruns, operating costs and paybacks in the case of default, I will vigorously oppose this project.
Since that time, Secretary LaHood has extended his own deadline for coming up with a way to alleviate Florida’s risk on High Speed Rail. While I appreciate his continued efforts to keep the project alive in Florida, it is important to note that I have yet to see any proposal that accomplishes my goal of eliminating risk to Florida’s taxpayers.”
Florida’s still on track to get $2.4 billion in federal funds for a high-speed rail project from Tampa to Orlando, the latest twist in a tea party-related transportation tale.
Gov. Rick Scott, who rejected the money last week, met with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood this morning in Washington.
Today was supposed to be the deadline for Scott to change his mind and accept the funds, something he insisted he would not do up – until today.
After the meeting, LaHood agreed to give Scott another week to consider alternate proposals.
“This morning I met with Governor Rick Scott to discuss the high speed rail project that will create jobs and economic development for the entire state of Florida. He asked me for additional information about the state’s role in this project, the responsibilities of the Florida Department of Transportation, as well as how the state would be protected from liability,” LaHood said in a statement.
“I have decided to give Governor Scott additional time to review the agreement crafted by local officials from Orlando, Tampa, Lakeland and Miami, and to consult with his staff at the state Department of Transportation. He has committed to making a final decision by the end of next week. I feel we owe it to the people of Florida, who have been working to bring high speed rail to their state for the last 20 years, to go the extra mile.”
Scott said he refused the funds because he remains convinced that the state would be on the hook for some – if not all – of the costs of the $2.7 billion project. He’s relying in part on a conservative think tank’s ridership analysis. And he’s come under pressure from tea party activists who see the project as symbolic of government waste.
Read reactions from Florida lawmakers and officials scrambling to come up with a proposal that meets Scott’s muster.
“ I am grateful the governor has agreed to listen to the facts on how the state will have no financial responsibility in high speed rail. I’m especially grateful to Secretary [ Ray ] LaHood for giving Florida at least one more week before our money goes to another state. Hopefully, this will be enough time for people of good intentions to come together and put Florida’s interests first. There is too much at stake for us not to try everything we can.” U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.
“I am pleased an agreement has been reached between Governor Scott and Secretary LaHood to extend the timeframe for consideration of additional alternatives for the Florida rail project. I hope a sub-grantee arrangement can be structured that will salvage part or all of the project in a viable way that will protect Florida taxpayers from financial risk.” U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., and the House Transportation Committee Chairman. Mica came up with a plan that would have limited the project to the first 21 miles.