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Fla. rail funds destined for other states

Associated Press / March 5, 2011

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TALLAHASSEE — US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced yesterday that $2.4 billion in high-speed rail funding intended for Florida will be sent to other states after the state Supreme Court upheld Governor Rick Scott’s decision to reject the money.

The Republican governor’s decision effectively kills the Tampa-Orlando route.

Until Scott’s election in November, the project had been on track to become a leading example of how the Obama administration’s stimulus plan is creating jobs and reviving the nation’s passenger-rail system.

Several states, including New York and Rhode Island, have asked LaHood for Florida’s rail funds, but the only project that would achieve the high speeds associated with bullet trains in Asia and Europe would be California’s.

The US Department of Transportation said in a statement that it will evaluate its options for making the $2.4 billion available elsewhere.

The Florida Supreme Court had put the bipartisan lawsuit filed Tuesday on a fast track because LaHood had given Scott until yesterday to accept the money.

Scott, an outspoken critic of the stimulus program, has said he believes the rail project would put Florida taxpayers on the hook for billions in cost overruns and operating subsidies.

State Senators Arthenia Joyner, a Democrat, and Thad Altman, a Republican, sued.. They said overruns and subsidies would be the responsibility of the private company contracted to build and operate the system and argued that state law gave Scott no choice but to accept the money.

The Supreme Court issued a brief but unanimous decision siding with Scott less than 24 hours after hearing oral arguments. It said the senators did not show they were entitled to an emergency court order that would have required Scott to accept the money.

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