Scott meets with Palm Beach County officials, mulls riding Tri-Railby John Kennedy | January 11th, 2012
A dozen Palm Beach County leaders huddled Wednesday with Rick Scott, lobbying the state’s chief executive on Tri-Rail, Medicaid spending and efforts to boost the troubled Glades economy.
County Commissioner Steve Abrams, and vice-chairman of the Tri-Rail board, effectively asked the governor to leave the commuter rail alone. The Florida Department of Transportation has floated the idea of turning operation of the money-losing rail line over to a public-private partnership.
“I think the best solution is to have local control,” Abrams said, during a 20-minute meeting between county officials and Scott and Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll.
Abrams, who said he’s a daily rider on Tri-Rail, also invited Scott to join him on his commute between Boca Raton and West Palm Beach.
Scott didn’t exactly agree, but he did ask, “Would they really let me run a train?”
For his part, Abrams, a lawyer, steered clear of promising to put Scott behind the wheel.
Margie Walden, executive vice-president of the Alliance of Delray Residential Associations, urged Scott to rethink the Legislature’s move last spring to seek federal approval for putting Florida’s 2.7 million Medicaid recipients into managed care programs. A five-county, HMO pilot program has been in place since 2006 in Broward and four other counties with mixed results, Waldren pointed out.
Walden said feared the move could hurt “super-seniors,” which she said are those over the age of 85 — a population that represents many of those who moved to south Palm Beach County as retirees in the 1980s, and have grown old there.
“We have very deep concerns,” Walden said.
Scott, though, didn’t sound likely to back away from the Medicaid rewrite — which still is awaiting approval from the Obama administration. Cost of the program, which is shared with the federal government, will absorb close to one-third of the $66.4 billion budget Scott has recommended for next year.
“The problem we have with Medicaid is that there just isn’t enough state money,” Scott said.
Shannon LaRocque, an assistant county administrator, also urged Scott to consider what the state could do to spur the economy in such communities as Belle Glade and Pahokee. Both communities are plagued by high unemployment — worsened by Scott’s closing last year of Glades Correctional Institution, the state’s oldest prison.
The development of a new, inland port on Lake Okeechobee remains a goal of county officials — although it hasn’t gotten much beyond the blueprint level.
“It’s going to bring great hope for jobs in that area,” LaRocque said.