- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday announced he will return $2.4 billion in federal funds for building a high-speed rail link between Tampa and Orlando — killing the project and setting off a bipartisan chorus of complaints from Sunshine State lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Mr. Scott, a former health care executive elected in November, said that the cash-strapped state could face another $3 billion in costs for the project on top of the federal contribution for a rail line that may never be profitable.

“I believe the risk far outweighs the benefits,” the governor said in a statement issued after he informed Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood of his decision.

But the move did not sit well with lawmakers of both parties on Capitol Hill, who immediately blasted the decision and the loss of federal aid.

“If Florida would’ve had a governor who rejected President Eisenhower’s idea, we wouldn’t have an interstate [highway] system,” said Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida Democrat, in a Twitter post.

Rep. Kathy Castor, another Democrat, whose district includes Tampa, said Mr. Scott’s decision “demonstrates a devastating lack of vision for Florida and a lack of understanding of our economic situation.”

“The governor put his own rigid ideology ahead of the best interests of Florida’s businesses, workers and families,” she added. “High-speed rail is projected to create thousands and thousands of jobs in our state.”

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John L. Mica, a Republican, said he was “deeply disappointed” with the governor’s move.

“This is a huge setback for the state of Florida, our transportation, economic development and important tourism industry,” Mr. Mica said.

Mr. Mica said he urged Mr. Scott to reconsider and to explore whether the private sector might assume the risks and any future costs associated with the project.

Not all members of the Florida congressional delegation condemned the governor’s action. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who took office last month, agreed with Mr. Scott that the state simply cannot afford the rail project.

“Our state and country simply cannot continue spending borrowed money on every new idea that comes along,” Mr. Rubio said. “I appreciate Gov. Scott’s willingness to encourage this debate at the state level in Florida.”

Mr. Scott’s decision comes a week after he proposed state spending cuts of $4.6 billion in the next budget, along with tax and fee cuts totaling about $2 billion.

High-speed rail was one of President Obama’s priorities in his 2009 stimulus package, and his fiscal 2012 budget proposal released Monday calls for $53 billion over the next six years for projects across the country.

But Mr. Scott is not alone in rejecting federal taxpayer dollars to subsidize high-speed rail. The new Republican governors in Ohio and Wisconsin previously rejected similar funding, and Obama administration officials transferred $342 million slated to go to those two states to Florida.

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