(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) Florida Governor Rick Scott isn't wavering in his rejection of high-speed rail funds. And he says he has no meetings scheduled with the US DOT to discuss the issue -- despite the fact that Friday is the deadline for Scott to turn over authority for Florida high-speed rail to another entity. If he doesn't the funds will revert to the U.S. DOT.
Scott was in New York City today as part of a multi-city tour promoting Florida's tourist industry. Transportation Nation grabbed him for a few minutes afterwards; transcript below.
Q: You talk about jobs. Senator Nelson says high speed rail will bring 24,000 jobs to Florida – how can you turn it down?
Rick Scott: Well, my concern is I want to focus on the places where we have a long-term impact, not just construction of high speed rail. Things like our ports, our highways, the infrastructure, that’s what I want to focus on. We’ve got a great position, Florida has, with the expansion of the Panama Canal and the expansion of the economies of Central and South America. My concern about the high-speed rail is it’s a large number-- $2.4 billion-- however it doesn’t cover all the operating costs, it doesn’t cover the construction costs, and, if it doesn’t work, and we have to shut it down, we have to give all that money back. That’s what I’m worried about.
Q: James Porcari, an administrator with the DOT, sent letters to 3 mayors saying you wouldn’t have to give the money back.
RS: Well, everything – I’ve had discussions with them, and I’m not convinced that we’re not on the hook.
Q: Is the deadline still Friday?
RS: I don’t know, Secretary LaHood made that deadline.
Q: Are you having any talks with the Department of Transportation right now?
RS: Well, I’ve not had a conversation in the last day with them, no.
Q: What would need to happen for you to want to go forward with the project?
RS: Well, what I’ve focused on all along is to make sure the taxpayers of Florida are not on the hook for the cost of building it, the operating cost when the fares don’t cover it – you have to remember we have Tri Rail, Palm Beach to Miami, it has $64 million worth of operating costs, and the fares only cover 1/6 of that cost now. So our experience in Florida with rail has been that it doesn’t cover its operating costs.
(In response to a question about the lawsuit filed against him that would force him to go forward with the project): Yes, we did, we filed our suit – we filed our response. The response is: I’m still not convinced that the taxpayers of Florida, which I’m responsible for, are not on the hook for the operating costs, the construction costs, and if it doesn’t work, if it gets shut down, give the $2.4 billion back.
Q: do you have any meetings scheduled with the DOT between now and Friday?