Scott responds to rail lawsuit, calls senators sore losersby Dara Kam | March 2nd, 2011
A lawsuit filed by two senators challenging Gov. Rick Scott‘s authority to reject $2.4 billion in federal funds for a high-speed rail project “is based on mischaracterizations and omissions of fact,” the governor’s lawyers wrote in a response filed shortly before noon today.
Scott scolds Sens. Arthenia Joyner, a Tampa Democrat, and Thad Altman, a Rockledge Republican, for overstepping their bounds by asking the court to force Scott to accept the funds even though Senate President Mike Haridopolos has vowed not to spend any money on the project this year. In the response, Scott insists he will veto any appropriations for the project should they make it into the budget.
In the opening line of Scott’s 29-page response, the governor’s legal team call Joyner and Altman “State Senators whose policy preferences have not prevailed in the political process” and frequently disparage the Tampa-to-Orlando rail project that would eventually link to Miami.
“Fortunately for the taxpayers of Florida, nothing in Florida law compels the Governor or the (Florida Rail Enterprise) to pour millions of dollars into a black hole during the historic fiscal crisis with which the State is presently grappling,” Scott’s general counsel Charles Trippe wrote.
Altman and Joyner alleged that Scott could not reject the funds because lawmakers had already appropriated a portion of it – $130.8 million – and his predecessor Charlie Crist already accepted it.
But Scott disputed that in today’s response, saying the legislature has not yet earmarked the $2.4 billion.
And the senators ignore the fact that U.S. Transportation Department officials require that “Scott express unqualified support for high-speed rail” – something he says he won’t do – before handing over the money.
Plus, the lawsuit asking the court to order Scott to take the money goes too far, Trippe wrote.
The Court would have to “(i) order the Legislature to appropriate $2.27 billion to high-speed rail; (ii) order Governor Scott not to veto such an appropriation; (iii) order the Legislature to override any such veto if it occurred; and (iv) either order Secretary LaHood to grant federal funds regardless of Governor Scott’s pronouncements, or order Governor Scott not to make any public pronouncements regarding his policy determination on the high-speed rail issue,” the filing reads.
“Such sweeping relief would violate nearly every separation-of-powers principle known in American jurisprudence,” it went on.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood gave Scott until Friday to reconsider his decision. Scott wants the court to make a final decision in the case by then.
Joyner and Altman, who asked the court for an injunction keeping LaHood from giving the money to other states until the case is resolved, have until 4 p.m. today to respond.