Florida Governor Rick Scott Rejects Federal Aid for High Speed Rail Project
Florida governor Rick Scott has announced that he will reject federal money for a high speed rail project. The project would have installed high speed service between Tampa and Orlando. Scott is not the first governor to reject federal funding for high speed rail. The governors of Ohio and Wisconsin also killed rail projects in their states, and their refusal pushed the department of transportation to infuse more funds into Florida’s bullet train project.
Although the project was expected to create 23,000 jobs in Florida, Governor Scott, in a statement released on his website, said that “President Obama’s high-speed rail program is not the answer to Florida’s economic recovery.” He claims that unseen expenses, not covered in the 2.4 billion dollar budget, would saddle Florida’s taxpayers with 3 billion dollars of additional costs. He also fears that in the event of a project collapse ” the state would have to return the $2.4 billion in federal funds to D.C.”
Scott’s alternative is to turn away from “high-risk rail projects” and invest in preexisting transportation infrastructure. He has a point about the need to upkeep America’s crumbling infrastructure. Many noticed the developing crisis even before the 2007 collapse of the I-35W Mississippi River bridge. The unsound structural integrity of this bridge was recognized years prior to the collapse. Instead of investing in repairs, the Minnesota Department of Transportation allowed it to linger, even though it continued to show dismal numbers in inspections.
Other nations, including China and many European countries, outspend us on renovating infrastructure. President Obama acknowledged this in his State of the Union address, “Our infrastructure used to be the best, but our lead has slipped.” Governor Scott proposes expanding current infrastructure to bring increased shipping to Florida,
We should be focusing on improving our 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.
Despite this argument, it seems that Scott might have refused the money for political reasons. It’s no secret that Republicans are infuriated by the new White House budget. They say that it will kill the country and that more cuts are necessary to save us from a suffocating deficit. Behind the scenes, they are working to cut public services including PBS and NPR. The GOP is looking for any excuse to confront Obama. In sabotaging Florida’s high speed rail project, Scott saw a chance to challenge Obama on a national stage, an opportunity to throw billions of dollars in the face of the federal government. His decision accentuates the gestures of governors John Kasich (Ohio) and Scott Walker (Wisconsin).
Scott used this announcement as a platform to systematically attack Obama’s budget.
Rick Scott urges us to trust his decision, because his “background is in business, not politics.” But his business experience doesn’t offer him credibility. In 1997 his company Columbia/HCA went under federal investigation, and Scott was forced to vacate his position as CEO. It was later uncovered that his company had employed fraudulent techniques to overcharge the government including creating false expenditure reports to leach funds from medicare, and exaggerating the seriousness of their patient’s medical conditions. They also offered bribes to doctors who referred patients to their services. I guess he does know a lot about wasted federal money; he made a living off harvesting it.
It’s hard to say what this project would have accomplished, and who was right about its potential. Obama described it as a job creating economic catalyst, while governor Scott called it a “spending boondoggle.” Transportation secretary Ray LaHood said,
“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. There is overwhelming demand for high-speed rail in other states that are enthusiastic to receive Florida’s funding and the economic benefits it can deliver.”
The debate over high speed rail will continue. Florida’s funds will be divided among other states, but will they take them?
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