Friday, March 4, 2011

Florida loses the High-Speed Rail funds, but wins the battle

For all those of you who have been following the adventures of Governor Rick Scott of Florida as he seeks to reject the $2.4 billion ARRA Stimulus funds for high-speed rail in his state, here's the latest news.

Two State Senators had sued the Governor, seeking to go around him to obtain those funds for the state.  They took it to the State Supreme Court.  The court ruled yesterday that the Governor had the authority to reject those federal funds.  

Here's the thinking behind the two positions.  The State Senators wanted the money for the short-term.  Politicians love to bring federal dollars to their states and districts.  It makes their constituents love them.  The Governor had a long-term attitude realizing that these several billions will cost the state many more billions that the state doesn't have and won't have.

What does this mean?  It means that now three states have rejected federal funding for high-speed rail.  That's non-trivial.  It challenges the President and the Department of Transportation and their high-speed rail vision and agenda.  The criticism against HSR has been mounting and it has become apparent that there's more here than meets the eye.  For example, those so-called free dollars from Washington will cost the state many times those amounts and that's something no state can afford.

That rejection makes the Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood embarrassed and angry enough to take the money away from the state and award it to states willing to accept it for high-speed rail purposes.  But, wait.  Those states have requested that they be permitted to keep those funds for other transportation infrastructure projects. But, that's not good enough for Ray LaHood.

Why is that a problem?  Those funds are ARRA stimulus funds. That's the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The purpose of those funds is to create jobs and help the states' economies, which, as we all know, are really hurting.  Even though the three governors (Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida) don't want to build high-speed rail in their states, they do need and want the stimulus dollars to . . . recover and invest in their economies and create jobs. However, for LaHood, it's my way or the highway.

What does that all mean?  It means that the Administration, with Ray LaHood as their point man, is using these dollars as pork, punishing those states that don't subscribe to President Obama's costly vanity project.  For the Administration, these earmark dollars were not ever really intended to create jobs and rebuild economies; that was only PR. (No high-speed rail project is "shovel ready.")  

For the Administration it's not about state economic recovery or jobs, it's about this futuristic vision which, as has been demonstrated, will do far more harm than good. It about creating the illusion that we are going to be "competitive" in our "race to the future." 

The worst of it is that what seems like "free" federal dollars is nothing of the sort.  It's far too little to build and operate anything as hugely expensive as a high-speed rail system.  That means the states will have to come up with the rest of the funding and provide operating subsidies forever.  All in order to build a luxury train for the well-to-do.


Breaking: No High-Speed Rail For Florida — Scott Tells Dot No, And The Court Upholds His Authority To Do So
Posted on March 4, 2011.

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) Florida Governor Rick Scott told US Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood this morning he would not move forward with high-speed rail. And his decision was backed up by the Florida Supreme Court, which upheld his authority to reject the $2.4 billion in federal stimulus funds for the project.

A DOT official said there are no more deadlines and that money will now leave Florida. “The U.S. Department of Transportation now plans to evaluate our options for making this $2.4 billion available to states eager to develop high-speed rail corridors, where the business case is strong, in regions across the United States.”

Earlier this morning the justices rejected a lawsuit brought by two state senators that challenged the governor’s refusal to accept $2.4 billion in federal stimulus funds for the project.  The court’s decision is below.

Meanwhile, Scott’s spokesman, Brian Burgess, released the following statement:
“The Governor is gratified that the court provided a clear and unanimous decision, he is now focused on moving forward with infrastructure projects that create long-term jobs and turn Florida’s economy around.  He also spoke with US DOT Secretary LaHood this morning and informed him that Florida will focus on other infrastructure projects and will not move forward with any federal high speed rail plan.”

And Ray LaHood’s statement reaffirmed that the president’s high-speed rail program would move forward. “The Obama Administration’s bold high-speed rail plan will not only create jobs and reinvigorate our manufacturing sector in the near term, it is a crucial and strategic investment in America’s future prosperity. I know that states across America are enthusiastic about receiving additional support to help bring America’s high-speed rail network to life and deliver all its economic benefits to their citizens.”