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Florida’s Scott Defends Refusal of Rail Money, Criticizes Obama

Florida Governor Rick Scott. Photographer: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Florida Governor Rick Scott. Photographer: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Feb. 25 (Bloomberg) -- Florida Governor Rick Scott, defending his rejection of $2.4 billion from the Obama administration for a high-speed rail project, said the program would have been a bad deal for taxpayers.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood rejected Scott’s criticism as “baloney.”

Scott, facing objections from Democrats and fellow Republicans in his state for nixing the planned Tampa-to-Orlando rail line this month, said such projects historically cost more to build than budgeted and lose money once in operation.

“I don’t want our taxpayers to fund that,” Scott said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend. He said he didn’t need to review bids from private businesses that said they would cover any potential overruns.

“It was never going to happen,” Scott said, adding that the state would have had to repay the $2.4 billion if the program failed.

LaHood, in an interview at the Bloomberg News Washington bureau, said of Scott, “He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

“I don’t know of anybody else except for the governor who thinks that this would be a bad deal,” LaHood, a Republican and former member of Congress from Illinois, said later on Bloomberg Television. The project “would have put an enormous number of Floridians to work. It would have helped people that are unemployed. It would have helped the economy. So he’s the lone ranger on this.”

‘What’s Changed?’

Scott, 58, in Washington for a weekend meeting of the National Governors Association, criticized President Barack Obama’s performance, saying he hasn’t shifted toward the center since the November elections cost Democrats control of the House and shrank their Senate majority.

“What’s changed?” Scott said. “We still have ridiculously high taxes. We’re walking into a $1.6 trillion deficit.”

“He should be cutting corporate taxes,” the governor said. “He needs to reduce -- dramatically reduce -- spending.”

Scott, elected last fall with Tea Party support, referred to the high-speed rail project on his Twitter page as “ObamaRail” and “ObamaTrain,” echoing the “Obamacare” nickname opponents have given to the health-care overhaul enacted last year.

The administration is trying to dictate “basically how we run our state,” Scott said in the Bloomberg bureau interview. He also said Florida “can’t afford Obamacare.”

Scott also took Republican governors’ side in a widening dispute with public employees over curbing their unionization rights and benefits during a budget crunch.

Public Employee Pensions

He said Florida would be better off if public employees couldn’t form unions and that it’s unfair to taxpayers that state workers don’t contribute to their pensions.

While Florida’s constitution grants state workers the right to unionize and bargain for workplace rights, Scott said, “It’d be great to be able to change it.”

“Our state workers don’t pay for anything into their pension plan. And we can’t afford that -- it’s not fair to taxpayers,” Scott said. “If you didn’t have collective bargaining, would it be better for the state? Absolutely.”

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Ohio Governor John Kasich, Republicans who have sought to limit state workers’ union organizing rights, are “absolutely doing the right thing,” Scott said.

Scott is the third Republican governor to reject funding for high-speed rail, one of Obama’s top priorities. Walker and Kasich rejected funds from $8 billion in high-speed rail grants in the 2009 economic stimulus plan.

Scott’s announcement Feb. 16 that he was refusing the money canceled the first new project in the $53 billion high-speed rail plan Obama presented in his 2012 budget two days earlier.

In the interview today, Scott said an existing high-speed rail line between Miami and West Palm Beach costs $65 million a year to operate and that fares cover only $10 million. Construction cost overruns on the proposed Tampa-Orlando line might have been $3 billion, he said.

LaHood said of Scott’s criticism: ’’I don’t know of another person in Florida that agrees with that. I don’t know of another economist, another person that’s looked at the plans in Florida. A lot of smart people have put these plans together. There would have been no financial liability or responsibility to the taxpayers of Florida.’’

To contact the reporter on this story: Julie Hirschfeld Davis in Washington at   or Jdavis159@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva@bloomberg.net

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