Gov. Rick Scott says SunRail, hi-speed rail “two totally different” projectsby Dara Kam | July 1st, 2011
Gov. Rick Scott defended his decision to allow a controversial Central Florida commuter rail project to move forward, saying he legally had no authority to block the $1.5 billion SunRail line as he did when rejecting $2.4 billion in federal funds for high-speed rail.
Scott, a tea party favorite, put SunRail on hold when he took office in January, freezing four contracts totaling $235 million. Tea party activists, railing against the commuter line, met privately with Scott to urge him to axe it.
Scott earned national headlines when he said ‘no thanks’ to $2.4 billion in federal stimulus funds for high-speed rail. Two lawmakers – one of them a fellow Republican – sued Scott but failed to convince the courts that Scott had overstepped his authority in sending back the money.
Scott said his lawyers told him there was a “significant risk” he would have lost a similar court challenge had he tried to block the commuter project.
“These are two totally different projects,” Scott told newspaper executives at the annual Florida Press Association and Florida Society of Newspaper Editors meeting at the Renaissance Vinoy Hotel in St. Petersburg. “It’s like comparing apples to oranges.”
Local officials’ pledge to cover cost overruns gave Scott some security in approving the project, backed by powerful GOP legislators including House Speaker Dean Cannon of Winter Park – and local officials of both parties.
Even so, he said, “I don’t know that I would have made the decision to go forward with this if I had been around three or four years ago.”