Florida Scraps High-Speed Rail Plan Pushed By Obama

February 16, 2011

NPR Staff and Wires

In a rebuke to the Obama administration, Florida Gov. Rick Scott is rejecting $2.4 billion in federal money for a proposed high-speed train line between Orlando and Tampa — the third state to turn up its nose at government funds.

Former Gov. Charlie Crist had lobbied hard to get a share of the $8 billion that the Obama administration set aside for high-speed rail projects. The state got the second-largest piece of the pie, behind California, and its share grew to $2.4 billion after new Republican governors in Wisconsin and Ohio rejected the money.

But Scott said cost overruns could put his state on the hook for another $3 billion. Once completed, there's also a good chance ridership won't pay for the operating cost, meaning the state would have to pump even more money into the line each year, he said.

The truth is that this project would be far too costly to taxpayers and I believe the risk far outweighs the benefits,"' the Republican governor, who took office last month, said in a press release.

He also said if the project failed, the state would have to return the money to the federal government. Scott said he informed U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood of his decision earlier Wednesday.

"My background is in business, not politics. But you don't have to be an economics expert to understand that if you spend more money than you take in, your business will fail," Scott said.

His announcement brought criticism even from some Republicans. Rep. John Mica called it "a huge setback for the state of Florida."

The project was important enough for lawmakers to call a special session in December 2009 solely to approve money for an Orlando-area commuter rail system that would connect with the high-speed rail. They acted with urgency because the project was needed to attract stimulus money for the high-speed rail.

High-speed rail is one of Obama's priorities, and his latest budget proposal calls for $53 billion over the next six years for projects across the country. Florida also stood to benefit when Republican governors in Ohio and Wisconsin rejected high-speed rail projects. The Obama administration committed an additional $342 million to Florida from the money that would have gone to those states.

Scott criticized Obama's spending plans when he announced Florida would reject the money, saying the president's most recent budget proposal would increase the country's debt.

"Higher taxes and more government spending is a recipe for disaster. Government has become addicted to spending beyond its means and we cannot continue this flawed policy," Scott said.

NPR's Greg Allen reported from Miami for this story, which contains material from The Associated Press. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.