The high-speed rail is now making its way high up into the courts. The Florida Supreme Court will hear oral arguments later today in a lawsuit filed against Governor Rick Scott, for refusing to take $2.4 billion in federal money for the proposed Tampa-Orlando high speed rail line. On March 1, two Senators — Republican Thad Altman and Democrat Arthenia Joyner — filed a lawsuit in the state Supreme Court against Scott for returning high-speed rail money back to the feds. The senators are arguing that the Governor is obligated to accept the money, because the Florida State Legislature voted in December 2009 to authorize the project. Scott, on his end, is claiming that he rejected the money because he was convinced there would be cost overruns and low ridership.
Joyner said, “It’s necessary at this time, I think, because our governor is new, to let him know that this is not a monarchy, he is not a king, this is a democracy and that there are three co-equal independent branches of government and it is necessary for them to be respected.”
Scott responded in a terse statement saying, “My position remains unchanged, I’ve yet to see any evidence that Florida taxpayers would not be on the hook. Senators Altman and Joyner’s disrespect for taxpayers is clear by their lawsuit trying to force the state to spend this money.”
Now justices in the state are holding an expedited hearing today, a day before the deadline for accepting the stimulus money. If Florida refuses to take the money by Friday, it will go to other states.
The mayors of Orlando, Tampa and Lakeland also jointly sent a letter to Scott hoping to change his mind. The letter concludes, “We may never have the opportunity again in Florida to build a project of this scale, impact, and significance with 90% federal funding. We have had every reasonable indication that the balance of construction costs and operating costs will be funded by the private sector. This provides a remarkable combination of resources for a project promising so many benefits to our region and our State. It is our sincere belief that this letter fully addresses all of your concerns and that there is no reasonable risk to the State of Florida or any other impediment to moving forward with this worthwhile project.”
Scott is the third in the line of newly elected Republican governors who have returned federal dollars for high-speed rail citing cost overruns. Republican governors in Ohio and Wisconsin canceled rail projects in their states in the past few months.
Stay tuned for more developments.