Sen. Nelson urges DoT to delay decision on Florida rail funding

A lawsuit to compel Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) to accept $2.4 billion in federal high-speed rail money should be allowed to run its course before a decision is made on giving the cash to other states, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said Tuesday.

Nelson said that the Florida Supreme Court should be allowed to rule on a petition filed Tuesday afternoon by a pair of lawmakers in the state’s legislature — one Democrat and one Republican.

“The plaintiffs who filed the suit called me this morning to ask that I convey to you their request for more time for the court to consider their case and to ensure that Florida gets the money it was awarded,” Nelson wrote to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

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“I am writing now to ask that you please allow at least one additional week before having to give our money and jobs to another state.”

Nelson, who is up for reelection in 2012, is the only Democrat holding a statewide position in Florida. Republicans are targeting him for defeat, and are using his support for high-speed rail to paint him as liberal ahead of the campaign.

The lawsuit, filed by Florida Sens. Thad Altman (R) and Arthenia Joyner (D), asks the Florida Supreme Court to order Scott to “expeditiously accept the funds and apply such funds appropriated by Congress and the Florida Legislature for the Florida High Speed Rail Project.”

The 281-page petition also asks for an injunction prohibiting Scott from rejecting the money on Florida’s behalf until a decision is made.

LaHood’s office would not comment on Nelson’s letter Tuesday.

However, Nelson spokesman Dan McLaughlin told The Hill that LaHood has indicated the transportation secretary would consider granting the delay if the Florida Supreme Court decides to take up the rail case.

The lawsuit stems from Scott’s repeated resistance to accepting $2.4 billion in federal money for a long-proposed bullet train connecting Tampa and Orlando in central Florida. Despite pleading from LaHood and local officials, Scott has continued to describe the train as a “federal boondoggle” and has refused to accept the money.

Tuesday, minutes after the lawsuit was filed, he posted a supportive comment about his objection to the train on his Twitter page.

The legal action comes as President Obama continues to press governors like Scott to accept federal cash for his vision of a nationwide network of railways to rival the interstate highway system.

Speaking to the National Governors Association on Monday, Obama noted that previous Republican presidents had built railways too.

“This hasn’t traditionally been a partisan issue,” Obama said during his speech to the governors. “Lincoln laid the rails during the course of a civil war. Eisenhower built the Interstate Highway System. Both parties have always believed that America should have the best of everything. We don’t have third-rate airports and third-rate bridges and third-rate highways. That’s not who we are. We shouldn’t start going down that path.”

Obama tied the rail proposals into his “Winning the Future” theme, which has marked recent speeches urging more investments in infrastructure even as congressional Republicans have proposed massive spending cuts, including $1 billion to cuts to the rail funding for the current fiscal year.

“New companies are going to seek out the fastest, most reliable ways to move people, goods, and information — whether they’re in Chicago or they’re in Shanghai,” Obama said. “And I want them to be here, in the United States. So to those who say that we can’t afford to make investments in infrastructure, I say we can’t afford not to make investments in infrastructure.”

The Florida Supreme Court has asked Scott to respond to the lawsuit by 4 p.m. Wednesday afternoon.