At the very heart of the high speed rail debate is cost. No one wants to pay for it except the Federal government. Governor Rick Scott has rejected 2.4 billion dollars in federal funds, canceling the project stating that it would be “far too costly to taxpayers” and that “the risk far outweighs the benefits”.
As voter outrage over the Federal spending budget grows stronger, Governor Scott has taken this opportunity to disregard the Florida Legislature’s appropriating power and the Florida voters themselves who in 2009 brought the high speed rail project back to life with a comprehensive framework and dedicated funding to begin in 2014.
Both Wisconsin and Ohio governors have also rejected their state’s respective high speed rail projects. Those rejected federal funds have been reallocated to Florida to the tune of $342.3 million additional dollars. This new money coupled with the Federal funds already in place will cover 90% of the cost of the high speed rail project with the additional 10% being picked up by the private sector. If Governor Scott is successful in killing high speed rail in Florida, those Federal dollars will go to California.
Central Florida retirees have some perspective on the issue. Many from Massachussets recall the ‘The Big Dig’ to nowhere that is still costing taxpayers and still is not complete 20 years later. Most retirees have basic questions of how will it be paid for, who is going to buy tickets, how much will the tickets be. Another issue is why start the rail between Orlando and Tampa? High speed rail is supposed to replace air transportation so the route should start between Orlando and Miami.
Retirees also have the forsight to know that high speed rail is the future. When interstate highways were first created state by state, no one wanted to pay for that either. There is a thought that we are falling behind European countries who have had to pay high gas prices and turned to rail for their transportation needs.
High speed rail’s implication on tourism is so great that Disney has donated land to the project. The potential long-term economic growth and boost to Central Florida’s infrastructure must be evaluated and vetted to make a clear decision on the risks of the high speed rail project. As a state with no income tax, Florida must consider all ways to promote business and tourism to promote and sustain long-term growth. Ticket cost, maitenance and ownership must be clearly defined to make an educated decision.