I noted yesterday that Rick Scott returned $2.4 billion in high speed rail money to the federal government, which would halt a planned project for an intercity link between Tampa and Orlando. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has dealt with this before with respect to Ohio and Wisconsin (there are those two states again), and he simply redistributed the money to states who wanted it. However, in this case, Florida Congressional leaders, Democrats and Republicans, are scheming to get the deal done anyway.
U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House Transportation Infrastructure Committee, and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said they are still looking into ways to get the system built.
Mica said he was disappointed and somewhat surprised by Scott’s decision. “This is more than a hiccup,” said Mica, whose district includes St. Johns County. “But there are still ways to do it.”
Nelson said he spoke with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Wednesday, and that LaHood is determined to keep the project on track.
Federal officials are looking into other options, including the possibility of creating an authority among the involved cities where the $2.4 billion could flow, Nelson said.
Mica happens to be the chair of the House Transportation Committee, so this is not idle speculation. Sam Stein reports that Ray LaHood met with the Florida Congressional delegation to see how to pull off this end run. It’s unclear how it would actually work, however, and whether it was even feasible. In addition, if other states got wind of the end-run possibility, they would probably curtail state participation and make the feds pick up the full tab, too.
Scott based his denial on what he called unrealistic rider statistics and the possibility of cost overruns that would accrue to the taxpayer. But private companies stated publicly that they would partner with the state and pay for any overruns, eliminating the possibility of it falling on the government.
I saw somebody on Twitter say today that Floridians are treating the Rick Scott era as something like a hurricane or other natural disaster, just hunkering down until it blows over. This would be one example.