Florida lawmakers must convince Gov. Rick Scott by Feb. 25 to accept federal stimulus dollars for a high speed rail project or the money will be given to another state, according to the U.S. Secretary of Transportation.
Sen. Bill Nelson and other Florida lawmakers are working on a new arrangement that they hope will convince Scott that Florida taxpayers will not be on the hook for cost overruns or operating expenses for the train, which would run between Orlando and Tampa.
On Wednesday, Scott announced that he would not accept $2.4 billion in federal stimulus money. "The truth is this project would be far too costly to taxpayers and I believe the risk far outweighs the benefits," said Scott.
Nelson has proposed that Florida pass financial control of the high speed rail project to a separate transportation entity such as Amtrak or the Tampa Rail Authority. Under the proposal, that transportation entity would guarantee that the contractor that builds the rail line would pay all operating expenses and cost overruns, as well as Florida's $280 million share of the project.
"If that can be taken care of in this new entity through the private sector and remove the financial risk to the state of Florida, that should meet the governor's requirement," said Nelson. "But the governor is going to have to cooperate in order for this to happen."
Nelson had proposed bypassing the governor. However, since the bullet train would be built on state land and Florida is the legal recipient of the federal stimulus funds, the governor's support is required, said Nelson.
"For those critics who say this $2.4 billion of federal money ought to go back to the treasury, let me tell you this money is already appropriated for high speed rail," said Nelson, addressing one of Scott's concerns about accepting the money. "If it's not going to Florida it's going to another state that has their applications in."
California, New York, and Minnesota are among states that could receive the high speed rail money if Florida declines it, said Nelson.