Florida governor spurns $2.4 billion in high-speed rail funds
The Tea Party-backed Rick Scott said he was rejecting the government funds to build a high-speed passenger rail line in his state.
Wed, Feb 16 2011 at 12:08 PM
REJECTED: The newly elected governor, a former healthcare executive and uncompromising fiscal conservative, cited what he described as likely cost overruns for the project as the main reason for rejecting the federal funding. (Photo: ZUMA Press)
TALLAHASSEE, Florida - Florida's Tea Party-backed Governor Rick Scott said on Wednesday he was rejecting $2.4 billion in government funds to build a high-speed passenger rail line in his state, as political tensions grew over the federal budget deficit.
"Government cannot spend more than it takes in," the Republican governor said.
"Government has become addicted to spending beyond its means and we cannot continue this flawed policy," he said.
Scott spoke at a news conference in the state capital, where he strongly criticized the budget proposal for 2012 unveiled on Monday by President Barack Obama and said federal grants earmarked for Florida to begin work on a high-speed rail link between Tampa and Orlando would be rejected.
The newly elected governor, a former healthcare executive and uncompromising fiscal conservative, cited what he described as likely cost overruns for the project as the main reason for rejecting the federal funding.
The potential overruns could put Florida taxpayers on the hook for billions of dollars, he said, in comments laying out his objections to a project championed by the Obama administration and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
"If the project becomes too costly for taxpayers and is shut down, the state would have to return the $2.4 billion in federal funds to D.C.," Scott said.
"The truth is that this project would be far too costly to taxpayers and I believe the risk far outweighs the benefits," he said.
In December, the Obama administration gave Florida about $342.3 million in additional funds for the rail line, meaning that Washington had committed to covering the full $2.4 billion projected cost of the project.
That $342.3 million was part of about $1.2 billion intended to fund high-speed rail projects in Ohio and Wisconsin but which had been rejected by governors there. LaHood redirected the funds to "other states eager to develop high-speed rail corridors" in the United States.
Other governors cite waste
Wisconsin's and Ohio's rejection of funds came after newly elected Republican governors in those states, like Scott, criticized the federal government for wasteful spending and the high-speed rail program for distracting their states from more pressing infrastructure needs.
President Barack Obama's $3.729 trillion budget proposal for fiscal 2012 shows the deficit rising to a record $1.645 trillion in fiscal 2011, then falling to $1.101 trillion in 2012. He said deep cuts could hurt the fragile economic recovery, but Republicans are pressing to slash spending and are brushing off concerns about potential job losses.
The Tea Party is a loosely organized conservative political movement that advocates cutting government spending, lowering taxes and curbing regulation of private business.
The Florida Department of Transportation had been expected to invite formal bids for the high-speed rail project this spring, and as many as eight teams made up of firms that have built and operated bullet trains in Japan, Germany, France, South Korea and China were expected to be involved.
The Tampa to Orlando line would have been the first phase of a longer line to Miami.
The $814 billion federal stimulus plan passed last year included $8 billion to begin building a network of "bullet trains" across a country that has long relied on cars traveling on interstate highways for passenger travel.
California is the farthest along in its high-speed rail plans and has received the most federal funding for the project so far.
Scott's announcement on Wednesday drew pointed criticism from Florida Democrats. They noted that the state, an epicenter of the continuing U.S. mortgage crisis, is struggling with a record-high 12 percent unemployment rate, the third highest in the country.
"One year after Florida lawmakers took historic, bipartisan action to spur the state's economy with a job-creating high-speed rail proposal, Governor Rick Scott is making a misguided, unilateral decision to overturn the will of the Republican-led Florida Legislature," said Representative Hazelle Rogers, the ranking Democrat on the Florida House Transportation Committee.
"Transportation modernization helps Florida compete in the ever-growing global economy," Rogers said. "I'm appalled by Governor Scott's shortsighted thinking and his decision to choose politics and ideology over job creation for Florida."
(Reporting by Michael Peltier; additional reporting by Lisa Lambert and John Crawley in Washington; Editing by Philip Barbara)
Copyright 2011 Reuters US Online Report Domestic News
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