Kate Hinds is an Associate Producer for WNYC News. She also reports for WNYC and Transportation Nation, a public radio reporting project that combines the work of multiple newsrooms to provide coverage of how we build, rebuild and get around the nation.
11th Hour for Florida High-Speed Rail: Look What's On Gov. Scott's Schedule Tomorrow
Thursday, March 03, 2011 - 09:22 PM
(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) Tomorrow is the deadline for Florida to either move forward with high-speed rail -- or forfeit its $2.4 billion in federal funds. Governor Scott has twice rejected the Department of Transportation's money -- but is he poised to change his mind? Look what's on his schedule tomorrow:
9:00am-9:15am MEETING WITH SECRETARY RAY LAHOOD (VIA PHONE)
In the meantime, let's review the timeline:
Scott first rejected federal stimulus funds for the project on February 16. Ray LaHood expressed disappointment, but said other states would benefit from Florida's money. We looked at what Scott's decision meant for President Obama's high-speed rail program, which he first announced in the State of the Union and then beefed up at the beginning of February when VP Joe Biden announced a $53 billion commitment to it.
By February 17th, some Florida politicians -- including Senator Bill Nelson -- were working to save the project and the 24,000 jobs it would bring to the state, and Ray LaHood gave Scott a week to reconsider. By the 19th, Congressman John Mica -- himself a Florida Republican and chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee -- put together his own plan to save the program, but Governor Scott wasn't biting, and by February 24th, he reaffirmed that the project was dead again. Senator Nelson's ire was fierce, Scott was unrepentant. But: by February 25th, Ray LaHood said he'd give Scott another week to reconsider. Meanwhile, politicians from across the country were scrambling to assure Ray LaHood that they'd be more than happy to spend the government's money on high-speed rail -- like 10 Democratic senators from the Northeast.
With a new DOT-imposed deadline of March 4th, two Florida state senators sought to try legal means to compel the governor to move forward with the project, and on Tuesday, March 1, they filed a lawsuit in Florida Supreme Court that said Scott had exceeded his constitutional authority by rejecting the money. Scott said the senators were disrespecting the taxpayers. And as recently as yesterday, he told TN that he had no meetings with Ray LaHood on his schedule and he remained unconvinced that the project was financially feasible -- or provided long-term jobs. Meanwhile, the mayors of Tampa, Orlando and Lakeland -- all key stops on the proposed high-speed rail route -- sent Scott a letter addressing his concerns and affirming their support for the project. And at 3pm today, oral arguments were heard in the high-speed rail lawsuit.
What do you think, readers? Which way is Scott leaning?