Florida court rules Gov. Scott can reject high-speed rail money

A Florida Court on Friday shot down a legal effort to stop Gov. Rick Scott (R) from rejecting federal money for high speed rail, saying the claim had no merit.

A bipartisan pair of state senators had sued, saying Scott had overstepped the bounds of his office by turning down $2.4 billion in rail grant money from the Department of Transportation. But the Florida Supreme Court ruled unanimously Friday morning the governor could do that, even if the money would have mostly paid for a Tampa-to-Orlando bullet train.

“The petitioners allege that Governor Scott has exceeded his constitutional authority and violated the separation of powers under the Florida Constitution,” the court wrote in a one-page ruling. “Based on the limited record before the Court and a review of the federal and state law relied on by the parties, the Court has determined that the petitioners have not clearly demonstrated entitlement to quo warranto, mandamus, or any other relief.

“Accordingly, the emergency petition is hereby denied.”

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The lawsuit, filed by Florida state Sens. Thad Altman (R) and Arthenia Joyner (D), had asked the Florida Supreme Court to order Scott to “expeditiously accept the funds” because the state legislature had appropriated some money — about $150 million — for the railway.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood spoke with Scott on Friday morning in a last ditch effort to convince the Florida governor to reverse course and allow the train. The Obama administration had pegged it as a prominent part of its push to build a nationwide network of fast trains.

But after the call with Scott, LaHood said only that “states across America” were interested in rail, making no mention of Florida specifically.

“The Obama administration’s bold high-speed rail plan will not only create jobs and reinvigorate our manufacturing sector in the near term, it is a crucial and strategic investment in America’s future prosperity,” LaHood said in a statement. “I know that states across America are enthusiastic about receiving additional support to help bring America’s high-speed rail network to life and deliver all its economic benefits to their citizens.”

LaHood said this week at a transportation conference in Washington that he has already heard from a half-dozen governors and senators who are interested in the money Florida does not want. California and New York immediately began positioning themselves when Scott first announced his decision, and several northeastern senators wrote to LaHood this week to say they were interested, too.

The court decision comes as a poll released Friday showed Floridians were about evenly split on whether high-speed trains should be built in the state. A telephone poll conducted by New Jersey-based SurveyUSA showed 48 percent agreed with Scott’s decision, while 46 percent disagreed. Forty-four percent said Scott’s decision was politically motivated.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), who has argued the rejection is politically motivated, called the court decision “unfortunate.” Nelson, the lone Democrat elected to a statewide office in Florida, has repeatedly asked LaHood for more time to sway Scott on the rail.

“It’s unfortunate for the state because we could remake our transportation system that is now built on an interstate system that gets so clogged at rush hour and you can imagine what it’s going be like 20 and 30 years from now,” Nelson said. “And it’s unfortunate for the 24,000 people that will not have these jobs in the next few years.”

Florida’s new Republican senator, Marco Rubio, has made similar arguments to Scott’s contention that the train is too expensive to build.