Governor Rick Scott’s politically unpopular decision to reject federal stimulus dollars for high-speed rail should come as no surprise to those who have followed Scott since his heated campaign against Bill McCollum in the Republican Primary. After all, this is the outsider who overthrew the GOP establishment by pledging to put an end to politics as usual in Tallahassee.
Scott’s Economic Development Transition Team wasn’t filled with career politicians, it was composed of business leaders who were successful in the private sector, including Miami Dolphins’ co-owner Wayne Huizenga Jr, Verizon business executive Karen Diebel and 47 other executives who prioritized budget oversite and reduction of state spending.
Apryl Marie Fogel, the Florida state director of American’s for Prosperity, issued this statement regarding the high speed rail proposal:
The Federal Railroad Administration has proposed a plan for Florida that will cost an estimated $11 billion to build, and it is projected that along with SunRail and Tri-Rail it will cost $100 million per year to operate once completed. With unknown ridership numbers and a budget shortfall of $3.5 billion and growing, the state of Florida simply can’t afford Obama and Dockery’s High Speed Rail plan.
With Florida’s fiscal long-term interest in mind, Scott rejected stimulus funds which are merely a partial payment for an untested infrastructure system in a region that doesn’t have the population to justify its annual cost. High speed rail advocates point to ridership rates in other regions, but high speed rail in central Florida isn’t comparable to metro areas in the Atlantic northeast such as New York and Philadelphia, two cities where population density is 10 times higher than the projected route of Florida’s track.
Yearly maintenance and other post construction cost, such as supporting mass transit, will be added to Florida’s overburdened budget. Should any of the supporting firms lose their ability to support high speed rail, Florida’s taxpayers will be stuck with a major tab. When you factor the average cost overruns in rail projects and combine them with realistic ridership projections (0.5 to 1 percent of the population), the Tampa to Orlando high speed rail project may cost the Florida taxpayers $6 billion over the next 30 years, proving to be a major economic liability, rather than an asset.
Political commentator Sarah Rumpf offered great insight regarding Scott’s decision: On her Florida political blog, Sunshine State Sarah, Rumpf wrote:
“Does the interstate highway system turn a profit? How about your local elementary school? Of course not. The real question for a government-funded project is not whether it will be profitable, but whether the project is a worthwhile expenditure of taxpayer funds.Clearly, here, Governor Scott has looked at the facts and figures for the high speed rail proposal and decided that Florida taxpayers’ funds are better spent elsewhere right now. The benefits of improved transportation infrastructure and construction jobs are, in the Governor’s view, not justified by the extremely large price tag for this project. Let’s also keep in mind that there’s no such thing as “free money” – the promised federal funds are our taxpayer funds too, and federal money always comes with a lot of strings attached.”