* Deal was strongly opposed by Tea Party-backed governor
* State Supreme Court nixes bid to force governor's hand
* LaHood says rail plans embraced elsewhere across America
By Michael Peltier
TALLAHASSEE, Fla., March 4 About $2.4 billion
in federal funds for a high-speed rail project in Florida will
go elsewhere after the state's Republican governor rejected the
deal out of hand, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said
LaHood said the Obama administration was pulling the plug
on the financing after speaking with Rick Scott, Florida's Tea
Party-backed governor, Friday morning in a last-ditch attempt
to win his approval.
The money, which many Floridians hoped would bring
thousands of jobs to a state burdened with record-high
unemployment, would now be spent in other parts of the country,
"I know that states across America are enthusiastic about
receiving additional support to help bring America's high-speed
rail network to life and deliver all its economic benefits to
their citizens," LaHood said in a statement.
Under LaHood's offer, Washington would have paid for all
but $300 million of the $2.7 billion high-speed line. The
project was originally approved in late 2009 by former Governor
Charlie Crist and by state lawmakers, who set aside funds to
finance the state's share.
Scott rejected LaHood's offer at least three times, saying
the state could not afford it and, if the line were built,
taxpayers would be responsible for operating losses. The
Tampa-Orlando line would be the first phase of a longer line to
Miami at a cost of billions more.
"Put simply, the proposed high-speed rail line is far too
uncertain and offers far too little long-term benefit for me to
consider moving forward and ultimately putting taxpayers at
risk during an already challenging fiscal climate," Scott had
written in a Feb. 16 letter to LaHood.
OTHER RAIL PROJECTS
The $2.4 billion Scott is relinquishing will go to
high-speed rail projects in other states such as California,
Washington State, Illinois and possibly the Northeast
Two Florida state senators filed a lawsuit earlier this
week in a bid to keep the project alive, saying Scott
overstepped his authority in rejecting the deal.
But Florida's Supreme Court tossed out the lawsuit on
Friday, saying there were no grounds on which Scott could be
compelled to accept federal money for a Tampa-to-Orlando route,
the first leg of a larger network that would eventually stretch
south to Miami.
"The governor is gratified that the court provided a clear
and unanimous decision, (and) he is now focused on moving
forward with infrastructure projects that create long-term jobs
and turn Florida's economy around," said Scott spokesman Brian
Scott, meanwhile, announced plans to fully fund a $77
million shortfall for a Port of Miami dredging project to
deepen the port so larger ships can enter it.
The port expansion project will ultimately bring 30,000
jobs to the state. Scott said.
"This is the type of infrastructure project that will pay
permanent, long-term dividends, and provide a solid return on
investment for Florida's taxpayers," Scott said.
The Tea Party is a conservative political movement that
advocates smaller government and fewer taxes.
(Editing by Tom Brown and Philip Barbara)