Florida’s new governor, Rick Scott, derailed the Obama spending choo-choo with a remarkable press release on Wednesday. The Administration wanted to pump $2.4 billion of federal tax money into a high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando, but Governor Scott said no, and told Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood exactly why it was a foolish waste of tax money.
First of all, these federal brainstorms always have cost overruns that must be picked up by the State. Scott estimated that Florida would be “on the hook for an additional $3 billion.” The governor notes that “Historical data shows capital cost overruns are pervasive in 9 out of 10 high speed rail projects.”
Also, since “ridership and revenue projections are, historically, overly optimistic,” Scott’s office estimated that Florida would end up subsidizing operation of the rail system, to the tune of $300 to $575 million over 10 years.
Just how “overly optimistic” are those ridership estimates? The Obama Administration projected that 3.07 million people would use the Tampa to Orlando line annually… but the Amtrak line connecting “Washington, D.C., Boston, Philadelphia, New York and Baltimore only had 3.2 million riders in 2010,” and that area has “a population 8 times the size of the Tampa-Orlando market.” For the benefit of those who have never visited Orlando, it should be noted that it already has its own huge airport, so it’s not as if this high-speed rail system would be a vital component of the Disney World tourist digestion system.
Instead of blowing money on the high-speed rail boondoggle, Scott wants to focus on improving Florida’s port, highway, and freight train infrastructure, to help his state benefit from free-trade agreements with Columbia and Panama, along with increased trade from other developing economies in Central and South America. He sees up to 143,000 new jobs resulting from this opportunity.
Rick Scott’s refusal of high-speed rail is a model of common sense and fiscal sanity. He has highlighted one of the most important points about the President’s bizarre railroad obsession: this incredibly expensive federal initiative is not a gift to the states. Instead, it drops a crushing obligation upon them.
Like Obama’s other Big Government initiatives, it’s an obligation they would find it very difficult to escape. Imagine the howls of future liberals if a conservative governor grew tired of subsidizing the high-speed rail boondoggle and proposed cutting off those multi-million dollar subsidies! He would be crucified for “wasting” the billions “invested” in the system when the Obama Administration “won the future” for us. Scott’s courage and common sense provide a model for other state governors to follow.