MIAMI (CBS4) – The political gamesmanship between the White House and Florida Governor Rick Scott over a high-speed rail project could be just beginning.
According to the Huffington Post, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is set to meet with Florida’s congressional delegation to discuss a way to circumvent Governor Scott’s rejection of $2 billion in federal funds to build a high-speed rail line in the Sunshine State.
LaHood will have bipartisan support behind him in Washington. Immediately after Scott made his decision, Republican Congressman John Mica was very critical of Scott’s decision.
“I am deeply disappointed,” Mica said. “This is a huge setback for the state of Florida, our transportation, economic development, and important tourism industry.”
LaHood had called members of Florida’s congressional delegation on Wednesday to discuss the matter and the delegation encouraged him to find a way to go forward with the project without Scott’s support.
The problem for LaHood is that the federal money only covers 90 percent of the overall costs. The state of Florida was to invest $280 million to finish the funding for the project. But Scott’s decision on Wednesday effectively killed the project and potentially cost thousands of Floridians jobs.
The Obama Administration could pick up the entire bill, but that would set a precedent for other governors to take similar actions to Scott to avoid having to pay for major projects.
It’s a politically delicate situation for the White House as well. The Obama administration is very high on a national high-speed rail system to help alleviate both traffic and environmental problems. But the GOP has been cool on the project since the beginning and hasn’t seen a need.
Plus, if the White House finally abandons the project and the money is shipped to another state; Floridians may not remember that it was Scott who killed the project and instead take it out on the White House during the 2012 election.
The Obama administration is working from an advantageous position over Scott. The high-speed rail project enjoys bi-partisan support in Washington, DC and was so important to the GOP-led legislature in Tallahassee that a special session was called simply to vote on the project.
Even members of Scott’s own party in Tallahassee now are questioning whether Scott even had the authority to act without the consent of the state legislature.
“There is this pesky thing called a constitution that limits authority,” said the Republican chairman of the Senate Budget Committee JD Alexander. “I still believe the genius of America isn’t just democracy, but it’s divided government and limitations on each individual’s ability to act unilaterally.”
Scott said Wednesday that there was too much financial risk involved for Florida to invest the money and said the project could cost the state far more than that in the long-run.
LaHood countered Scott’s argument that the state could be on the hook for more money than originally estimated saying that there were no financial risks for the state, but instead, private businesses would compete for the project to assume cost overruns and operating expenses.
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