Gov. Rick Scott exceeds constitutional authority

Original: In one of his most challenging moments, President John F. Kennedy was honest and straightforward in conceding he had erred. When speaking to reporters after the Bay of Pigs, he shared a wise man’s quote.

“An error does not become a mistake - until you refuse to correct it.”

Last Wednesday, Gov. Rick Scott made an error in rejecting high-speed rail. Now, it looks like he’s making a monumental mistake, saying he remains unconvinced there’s no risk to taxpayers. And, I think, the governor in rejecting the project may even be exceeding his constitutional authority.

I am disappointed and – quite frankly – think it pitiful that Scott would turn down $2.4 billion in allocated funding for high-speed rail in the nation’s fourth largest state. Such a decision will cost Florida 24,000 new jobs and will obstruct economic growth along the I-4 corridor, and eventually all the way from Orlando to Miami.

For the past week, Scott has cited so-called economic realities that led him to first turn down the money. He claimed Florida taxpayers would be on the hook for possible cost overruns. He claimed that ridership and revenue projections were overly optimistic. He claimed the state would have to repay the federal government all of the $2.4 billion, if the project faltered.

His claims were hasty and ill-informed when he first announced his decision a week ago.  Today, they’re untrue.

A bi-partisan group from Florida’s congressional delegation has spent the past week working with U.S. Department of Transportation officials and representatives of the cities of Orlando, Tampa, Lakeland and Miami, to painstakingly address all of Scott’s concerns.

They came up with a detailed plan that removed any financial burdens from the state and taxpayers and placed them into the hands of private companies.

Under this plan, Florida would accept the $2.4 billion federal grant. The state would transfer the money over to a new legal entity made up of city officials from along the first leg of the route between Orlando and Tampa. This new entity, called the Florida Regional High Speed Rail Commission, would then enter into a contract with the private companies that would design, build, operate, maintain and finance the rest of the operation.

Furthermore, these private entities would be the ones to face financial repercussions if the system ever faltered. In other words, there would be no financial risk to Florida taxpayers.

The governor’s determination to reject the money anyway - not once, but twice - leads me to believe it is, at least in part, politically motivated. Last week, he called the high-speed rail project “Obama-rail,” putting partisan labels where they don’t belong.

High-speed rail is not a partisan issue. It is an economic opportunity for Florida. It is a way to fortify our state’s transportation network and foster growth.

More importantly, given the hard times we’re all facing, it was a chance to bring thousands of new jobs to Florida - 24,000 of them to be more specific. 

In sticking with his rejection, Scott is sending the $2.4 billion and 24,000 jobs right to other states. Our money and jobs will end up in California, New York or Rhode Island. These states have been clamoring for help with their high-speed rail projects.

Thanks to Gov. Scott, it looks like they’ll be getting a check in the mail.