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Jimbalaya
What a train wreck!
Article published on Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2004
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I’ve harped on this before, but it deserves some more treatment. This bullet-train amendment, which the Florida Supreme Court recently approved for the ballot in November, is like Freddy Krueger knocking on your bedroom door.

What were the voters thinking in 2000 when they approved this thing?

I like to think that when the voters give their approval to something, whether it’s the presidential election, or a ballot initiative, that asking them to reconsider their vote is insulting.

But, this is a different matter. The voters were perplexed with the number of amendment considerations and were embroiled in electing a new president, so placing this on the 2000 ballot was, in retrospect, a “sure shot.”

Most voters just give their approval to those initiatives anyway, studies show.

Gov. Bush was right when he called this mess a boondoggle. It will financially strap the state to an Amtrak-like enterprise that will have serious repercussions for more important problems.

Like school overcrowding and pre-Kindergarten “Head Start” programs.

Before anybody accuses me of being a “Bushey,” let me remind them that Jeb Bush is a big proponent of “testing” our students and would rather see the money saved by killing the bullet train and put into more school assessment and grading tools.

Bush’s and the legislature’s own budget gurus estimate that the state will save between $42 billion to $51 billion over 30 years if voters nix this amendment.

That’s a very conservative number. We all know how government works. Costs will surely spiral out of control.

Proof?

Look at Amtrak. In its 30-year history, it has been bailed out time and again by the federal government because it never has turned a profit.

And then there’s Americans’ love affair with their cars. One of the biggest cultural rites young adults go through is getting their drivers licenses.

The next part of the ritual? In a word – wheels!

It’s ingrained in our culture to do things independently. At a friend’s house and want to hit the mall or a club? No problem, grab the keys and you’re off.

All of which makes me wonder. Who’s going to ride this thing 20 years from now?

Any ridership estimates you see are woefully cautious. Nobody really knows who’s going to take it.

Oh, the proponents of high-speed rail scream that tourists will love the convenience of hopping from Orlando’s Magic Kingdom to make their way to the beaches here in Pinellas.

Yeah, right.

Tourists typically spend their time (and money) at one spot. It doesn’t matter if it’s Central Florida or Maine. Folks don’t like to “barhop” from one place to the next.

For the moment, forget about the environmental troubles this train will bring. Forget about the amount of land the government will have to purchase.

Forget about the slow-as-molasses permitting process.

Ask yourself what’s more important – our kids’ education or the remote possibility that tourists will say sayonara to Mickey Mouse and hello to the beach?

Jim Harrington is the editor of the Largo Leader, Clearwater Citizen and Safety Harbor Journal.
Article published on Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2004
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Tampa Bay Newspapers
9911 Seminole Blvd.,
Seminole, FL 33772
Phone: (727) 397-5563
Fax: (727) 397-5900
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