Florida rejects $2.4bn for high-speed rail

Florida governor Rick Scott is the third newly elected Republican governor to turn down federal high-speed rail funding. Scott asked to redistribute the funds to other Florida transportation projects, but the funds will likely be used for high-speed rail in other states.

Florida Governor Rick Scott has declined $2.4 billion in federal high-speed rail funding, arguing that the projected Tampa to Orlando high-speed rail corridor is not economically viable. Scott said the project would obligate Florida to pay subsidies of up to $575 million over 10 years, as well as up to $3 billion in cost overruns, according to a statement.

In a letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Scott said “even with financial guarantees from a private sector builder/operator, moving forward with such a project would likely lead to a financial obligation by the state of Florida in the future”.

Government has no resources of its own. Government can only give back what it has previously taken from us

Florida Governor Rick Scott

Scott listed nine port and roads projects he wanted to pursue with the high-speed rail funds, but LaHood said in a statement that “there is overwhelming demand for high speed rail in other states that are enthusiastic to receive Florida’s funding”.

LaHood said he was “extremely disappointed” in Scott’s decision. He also challenged the idea that Florida would have to pay substantial cost overruns.

“We worked with the governor to make sure we eliminated all financial risk for the state, instead requiring private businesses competing for the project to assume cost overruns and operating expenses,” LaHood said.

He said that other states that receive Florida’s share of the funding will benefit from “manufacturing and construction jobs, as well as private development along its corridors”.

Scott won his seat last November, and belongs to the controversial anti-government Tea Party movement. He joins two other newly elected Republican governors in turning down federal funds for high-speed rail.

In December, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker declined about $810 million and Ohio Governor John Kasich rejected about $400 million in high-speed rail funds. Those funds came from the 2009 stimulus bill, which allocated $8 billion to high-speed rail.

Wisconsin and Ohio funds were redistributed to other states in proportion to the size of their stimulus awards, with $624 million going toward California’s $42 billion project to connect Los Angeles to San Francisco, the largest project in the country.

But Florida was the second-biggest beneficiary of the redistributed funds. The state was supposed to receive an additional $342.3 million.

Florida had already been allocated $1.25 billion in stimulus money to develop rail connecting Tampa, Orlando and Miami. The Tampa-Orlando corridor was under development, and also received an $800 million award from the 2010 budget, according to the Department of Transportation website.

President Barack Obama has made a major push for high-speed rail. Just last week, Vice President Joe Biden announced a six-year, $53 billion high-speed rail plan as part of the proposed 2012 budget. Beyond the stimulus money, the 2010 budget included $2.5 billion for high-speed rail.

But in his letter to LaHood, Scott said high-speed rail resulted in only “temporal job creation” during the construction phase. He also emphasised his ideological opposition to increased government spending.

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