On Tuesday, a Huffington Post headline read, “Rick Scott Competes with Scott Walker for Most Isolated GOP Governor.” Since the enormous budget protests over Governor Scott Walker’s proposed radical union-busting bill began storming the Wisconsin State Capitol two weeks ago, one would think that other governors throughout the country would make a point to avoid subjecting themselves to the same hot water. Leave it to Governor of Florida Rick Scott, however, to go against the grain and continue attempting to leave our state in the Dark Ages.
Gov. Scott drew heated, well-deserved criticism from state and local officials after formally announcing the day after the beginning of the Wisconsin protests that he would be rejecting $2.4 billion of federal funds for the first phase of the long-planned Florida High Speed Rail project, which would connect Orlando to Tampa. In spite of the fact that the state has fought for high-speed rail for decades, and Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike agree that the project is a good decision for Florida’s economy and infrastructure, Gov. Scott refuses to budge on his narrow-minded view that the project may possibly burden taxpayers with potential cost overruns or other operating liabilities.
In a last-ditch effort to save the project and prevent the money from being reallocated to another state, federal and local officials presented a revised plan to Gov. Scott which would absolve the public of any of these costs. U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood worked with state legislators and local mayors to work out a plan to divert any liability to a private company: “They proposed having two or more local governments join to create a new independent regional agency that could receive the federal rail funds Scott rejected last week, then hire a private company to build and run the bullet train… Key to the idea is that the private vendor would be required to assume all financial risks for building and running the bullet train.” According to Mayor of Tampa Pam Iorio, “Neither the state nor local governments would be responsible for any construction cost overruns, operating deficits from low ridership or repayment of grant funds if the project failed.” This ingenious proposal would ensure that Florida’s taxpayers will be protected from any financial burden that the project may, but probably will not, incur.
Nonetheless, Gov. Scott remained convinced somehow that the plan was not good enough. Even though federal, state, and local officials, many of them fellow Republicans (including Secretary LaHood), have addressed his erroneous “fear” of harm to taxpayers, he is clearly pandering to his Tea Party supporters and Tea Party-backed special interests. He now has until Friday to accept the revised proposal.
One last glimmer of hope for a modernized infrastructure for Florida has come in the form of a bold and substantial lawsuit filed by two state senators, one Republican and one Democratic, who claim that Gov. Scott has violated the Constitution and exceeded his authority by rejecting the high-speed rail funds after the Florida Legislature already voted to move forward with the project. Within a matter of hours, the Florida Supreme Court responded to the suit, brought forth by Sen. Arthenia Joyner (D-Tampa) and Sen. Thad Altman (R-Melbourne), by ordering Gov. Scott to submit a formal response by noon today. In his response, Gov. Scott reiterated his illogical position on the project and impertinently referred to Sen. Joyner’s and Sen. Altman’s commendable efforts as an act of “disrespect” to state taxpayers, raised simply because their “policy preferences have not prevailed in the political process.” On the contrary, it is Gov. Scott who is prioritizing his warped right-wing ideology and his corporate backers over the political process by disregarding the voices of the Florida Legislature. There are at least two relevant precedents to support Sens. Joyner’s and Altman’s case, one from 1999 and one from 2008, in which the Supreme Court ruled in favor of state legislators who claimed the governor was overstepping his authority. Hopefully, the court will recognize these cases in consideration of this one, hereby saving Florida High Speed Rail.