Thursday, February 17, 2011

Damage Done: Rick Scott Kills The Rail

I'll get straight to the facts: Rick "WHAT PART OF MEDICARE FRAUD DID YOU VOTERS OVERLOOK" Scott killed the $2.4 billion high speed rail project that was set to build between Tampa and Orlando.

How big a deal is this?

This was what was called "shovel-ready": A project that had been in the planning stages long enough that the federal and state governments had set aside land to begin installing the rails.  The recent roadwork done to I-4 (the interstate connecting Tampa and Orlando) had space set aside for the trains.  It was ready to go.  All they needed was to start the bidding between private contractors to start construction.

And Scott killed it.

The high speed rail is part of Obama's push to upgrade our nation's aging infrastructure.  We haven't had new rail lines installed in ages, decades, and the old rails use old engine technology.  The newer systems are faster, cleaner, updated.  Nearly every industrialized nation uses rail, and all of them are upgrading to the high-speed rails.  Except here in the United States, where the teabagger reactionaries of the Far Right view high-speed rail as a government boondoggle of wasteful spending.  Regardless of the fact the rail projects have been paid for (via creative accounting and shuffling of stimulus funding).

So Scott, who caters to the teabagger crowd, killed it.  Because anything Obama wants the teabaggers hate, so Scott killed it.

Scott's reasoning was that the train project would suffer cost overruns.  Not true: the contract bids with the private companies insisted up front that the public will not pay for the overruns (meaning the company who gets the bid has to eat it if overruns do happen).

Scott even got it into his head that the money for the rail is now Florida's to control, and had asked the federal agency issuing the funds to see about spending the money on more roads in Florida.  And this is where he's really screwing up, because he either didn't know or didn't care to know: The money was earmarked (yes, that word) for the high-speed rail ONLY.  That if the state's governor rejected the money for the rail construction, the money gets pulled back into the federal pool and gets shipped off to another state that WILL take that money for their high speed rail plans.

Personally, I didn't care one way or another that we were getting a high speed rail between Orlando and Tampa.  I'm not in construction so the job growth potential didn't directly affect me.  I would prefer getting funding to create a light rail train system within the Tampa Bay metro to connect all major points between Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.  But I understood the value the high speed rail would have for our state's tourism.  Connecting Orlando (AKA Mickeytown) and their theme park meccas of Disney, Universal, Sea World and others to the Tampa Bay metro with sports teams and some of the best beaches on the planet made tons of sense to boost our tourism trade.  This is Florida.  Tourism is our Number Two industry (illegal drug trafficking is sadly Number One).  And there was evidence from existing high speed rails that tourism gets boosted by 20 percent.

So Scott said NO to the high speed rail money, and now it's getting sent to other states.  Other states with massive unemployment who will take that money in a heartbeat to hire more construction workers and generate more jobs and improve their states economies.  States that can boost their own tourism and travel businesses while Florida suffers with traffic jams and car pileups on I-4.

Oh, and to cap this whole thing?  Scott made his decision on his own: he did not discuss the matter with legislature leaders, he did not consult the state's Transportation office, he did not set up a committee or open hearing on the matter, he did not wait for a current committee to report their findings (things he promised to do during the election, by the by).  Scott basically did this by imperial decree.

How big a deal is this?

Almost the entire state exploded in rage when word got out.  The media, already skeptical of Scott's performance his first month in office, dumped on his decision with no one defending him. (If Scott has any defenders in the media, I've yet to find it.  Then again, I don't read Weekly Standard or National Review much)

Worse for Scott, his fellow Republicans at the state legislature and federal Congressional level are openly rebelling against his move.  Normally the party would back the governor to avoid public rifts that could weaken the party's hold.  Not happening this time.  Republicans along the I-4 corridor - viewed by political hacks as a key Republican voting bloc - are reaching out to the Transportation Department to convince them to hold onto the money and wait for someone to smack some goddamn sense in Scott's bald noggin (already California and New York are asking after the $2.4 billion.  Gee, thanks Scott).  How this affects Scott's interaction with the state legislature is still open for debate, but he's got to be losing friends by the hour in Tall Hassle...

To the 2.5 million Floridians who voted Rick "I JUST KILLED JOBS" Scott to run our state.  Next time you're stuck in five hours of traffic on sixty miles of highway between Tampa and Orlando, turn your A/C off and roll the windows up and SUFFER.  And wonder why all the tourists are flocking to where they have high speed rail.  And wonder why our state's economy is still floundering at 12 percent unemployment (or worse).

P.S.  Anyone else notice how having a "CEO as President/Governor" doesn't REALLY work too well?  A CEO or head of a company may work well in a corporate setting where decisions have to be made top-down and things are viewed as "Zero Sum".  But the public sector (government and non-profits) operate toward different objectives and require more collective action.  Worse still, the CEOs who DO tend to run for office?  Not exactly the "Best of the Best" when it comes to business leadership...

P.S.S. To all fellow Floridians.  This might be of interest: Awake the State.

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