Reaction came quick after Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced he was turning down more than $2 billion in federal money to build a high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando.
According to a statement from the Governor’s office released Wednesday morning, “After thoughtful consideration, Gov. Rick Scott informed U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood of the state’s decision to reject President Obama’s Tampa to Orlando high-speed rail project.”
Scott said his decision to reject the project came down to three main economic realities.
1 - Capital costs overruns from the project could put Florida taxpayers on the hook for an additional $3 billion.
2 - Ridership and revenue projections are historically overly optimistic and would likely result in ongoing subsidies that state taxpayers would have to incur. Scott estimates those costs could be from $300 million to $575 million over 10 years. He includes a note that the state subsidizes Tri-Rail $34.6 million a year while passenger revenues covers over $10.4 million of the $64 million annual operating budget.
Tri-Rail provides commuter service from Miami to Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach.
3 - If the project becomes too costly for taxpayers and is shut down, the state would have to return $2.4 billion in federal funds.
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) joined with a number of officials who oppose the governor’s decision. According to a story posted on the senator’s website, billnelson.senate.gov, Nelson said he is searching for other ways to fund a Tampa-Orlando high-speed rail project without the state's participation.
Nelson said lawyers were looking into ways to keep the money in Florida. Ideas include giving the money to a state high-speed rail authority or the cities of Tampa and Orlando.
Nelson downplayed Scott’s claim that the high-speed rail project would cost Floridians, saying that the federal government has agreed to pay 90 percent of its cost. Nelson estimated that the rail project would create 24,000 jobs over the next five years.
“There’s a lot at stake for the future of our state,” he said.
Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority released a statement Wednesday afternoon, saying “like many of our partners in the region,” TBARTA is “disappointed” by Scott’s decision.
“We understand the governor’s desire to reduce government spending,” the statement said. “However, we believe the HSR (high speed rail) project would produce significant economic benefit for our region and our state, including thousands of new jobs and millions of dollars in private investments.”
Tampa Bay Partnership and Central Florida Partnership released a joint statement, saying they were “surprised and disappointed” by the decision. The partnerships said they looked forward to “reviewing in detail” the information Scott used to make his decision.
“Our belief was that the governor would carefully study the results of the upcoming Florida Department of Transportation ridership study before making a decision to allow the project to go out for bid thus providing the private sector the opportunity to assume the risks and any future costs of the project.”
Scott defended his decision in his statement and criticized Obama’s recent budget calling for increased spending for rail projects.
“President Obama’s high-speed rail program is not the answer to Florida’s economic recovery,” Scott said. “We must make investments in areas where we will get a return from the shareholders - Florida’s taxpayers.”
The governor advocates spending money to improve the state’s ports, rail and highway infrastructure “to be in a position to attract the increased shipping that will result when the Panama Canal is expanded when the free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama are ratified and with the expansion of the economies of Central and South America.”
“The answer is to reduce government spending, cut government’s leash on our state’s job creators and then hold the government accountable for the investments it makes,” Scott said.