Florida lawmakers want governor to take Feds' high-speed rail money

State lawmakers in Florida are threatening to sue GOP Gov. Rick Scott over his refusal to take $2.4 billion in high-speed rail money.

The fight in Florida comes amid a renewed push by President Obama on high-speed rail, which the White House has identified as a key investment in the nation’s future.

Scott describes the $2.4 billion the federal government has offered his state a “federal boondoggle” and has refused to accept the money to build a high-speed rail line from Tampa to Orlando.

Republicans in Washington have also criticized Obama’s proposal to spend on high-speed rail at a time of record deficits. The White House argues the investment in rail would help the nation’s economic growth.

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Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has repeatedly extended the timeframe for Scott to accept the funds, only to be denied.

“It's time to play hardball,” Democratic Florida state Rep. Scott Randolph told Orlando TV station WESH in a Monday report. The station reported that two other state lawmakers – one Democrat and one Republican – are considering a lawsuit to force Scott to accept the money. 

“It's a tough situation for the legislature but I think at some point in time, members of his own party are going to have to stand up and say that we are an independent branch of government, and you're going to respect us,” he told the station.

Only California has been offered more than the $2.4 billion the federal government has put on the table for Florida over the past two years.

LaHood has said he would begin considering transferring the rail money to other states if Scott did not get on board by the end of the week. LaHood had originally set a deadline for last Friday.

California and New York have already expressed interest in the money, and this week, several northeast senators said the money should be sent there because they have high-speed rail that could be improved.

“With its large population and high economic activity, the Northeast Corridor is well-positioned to lead the nation into the future of high-speed rail transportation,” 10 senators wrote in a letter to LaHood on Monday.

The letter was singed by Delaware Sens. Tom Carper (D) and Chris Coons (D), Connecticut Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D) and Joe Lieberman (I), Maryland Sens. Benjamin Cardin (D) and Barbara Mikulski (D), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), and New Jersey Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D) and Robert Menendez (D).

“If another project sponsor in Florida is not found, our states stand ready to put the unwanted funds to good use to improve our existing high-speed rail service, create jobs, and reduce congestion and air pollution,” the letter states.

Obama told a group of governors gathered at the White House on Monday that unlike healthcare, rail has not typically been a partisan issue.

“Lincoln laid the rails during the course of a Civil War,” he said during his speech to the National Governor’s Association. “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.”

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