Florida is latest state to refuse federal high-speed rail funding

In an announcement Wednesday, Florida Governor Rick Scott said that he would be returning federal funds for a planned high-speed rail project from Tampa to Orland. Gov. Scott joins newly-elected governors in Ohio and Wisconsin who have also pledged to kill federal rail projects.

Over $2 billion in federal funds will be passed up by Florida Gov. Scott. He believes the project is doomed to cost overruns, putting state taxpayers on the hook for upwards of $3 billion. The governor also believes that estimated ridership numbers have been inflated to help make the case for high-speed rail.

“The truth is that this project would be far too costly to taxpayers and I believe the risk far outweighs the benefits,” Scott said in a statement.

Instead, Gov. Scott wants to invest money into the state’s existing infrastructure of highways, rail and ports to capitalize on trade agreements made in South America. “We should…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.”

Despite, what Gov. Scott refers to as “risks” in high-speed rail, a study released last year by the US Conference of Mayors said that high-speed rail would be a major stimulant to the regional economies where hubs are planned. In addition to the nearly $20 billion in increased annual revenues for states and cities, CO2 emissions could be reduced by 2.8 million tons a year, the study indicated.

The study specifically cited Orlando as being in a position to create 27,500 new jobs and raise $2.9 billion in new revenue with high-speed rail.

Still, Gov. Scott is not the only governor to recently tell the US Department of Transportation to keep its high-speed rail funding. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Ohio John Kasich have also publicly denounced projects in their state, sending money back to Washington.

Although it remains to be seen what affect the canceled projects will have on the local economies in their state, or if the projects’ costs were underestimated as these three governors have predicted, a tone among incoming Republican governors seems to be developing.

“Let us never forget, whether it is Washington or Tallahassee, government has no resources of its own,” Gov. Scott said. “Government can only give to us what it has previously taken from us.”

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Daniel Bevarly

Jeff: Nice post and your points open up additional issues that should be studied around the decision. As a Floridian and a former government administrator, I’ll offer a couple of perspectives. The first is more about the “trend,” as you cite, of new Republican governors returning federal funds to a Democratic administration in Washington. Might we conclude that it is not necessarily a matter of the how the public is to benefit from the use of the money, but rather a symbolic gesture of partisan politics? I don’t know. Let’s hope these public administrators are being more thoughtful of their constituents and their states’ needs –and perhaps they are. But that is not where I am going here, even though it is a valid question.

Governor Scott’s decision was a surprise to just about everyone: business leaders, news media, local governments, regional partnerships, and state legislators (both Democrats and Republicans). A peer reminded me that the governor is just being consistent with his campaign pledge. Still, this was a huge amount of money for a project that is to benefit the state’s future and not necessarily it’s present.

Perhaps our governor has a vision of the state’s future transportation needs and it does not include high speed rail. But that has not been made clear to us. There are many who are scratching their heads as to the reasoning behind this action, the timing of the action, and the lack of specifics as to our alternatives besides general reinvestment in our current transportation infrastructure.

My organization is beginning a multi-year, state-wide citizen engagement project to envision Florida’s future. Among the key elements we seek public input on is transportation, rather “mobility” –since we don’t know if transportation as we know it will be the term used 40 years from now, but we do know mobility will still be the method to move people and goods throughout and beyond Florida.

We understand why the governor made this decisi

Daniel Bevarly

My last paragraph was cut off:

We understand why the governor made this decision based on what is happening today in our economy and among our demography. But this is a decision that affects the state’s future. If our highest elected official is not looking into our future to make decisions today, who, if anyone has that responsibility to Florida?