In a news conference earlier today (February 16th) Governor Rick Scott announced that he was rejecting federal funding for Florida high speed rail. In his prepared statement Scott said he was making good on campaign promises reducing the size and scope of government. He listed three main economic realities as the reason for rejecting the federal funding.
First – capital cost overruns from the project could put Florida taxpayers on the hook for an additional $3 billion.
Second – ridership and revenue projections are historically overly optimistic and would likely result in ongoing subsidies that state taxpayers would have to incur. (From $300 million - $575 million over 10 years). The state subsidizes Tri-Rail $34.6 million a year while passenger revenues covers only $10.4 million of the $64 million annual operating budget.
Finally – if the project becomes too costly for taxpayers and is shut down, the state would have to return the $2.4 billion in federal funds to D.C.
Mayor Gow Fields reacted with a statement of disappointment. He said, “I really believe we would have a better economic case after we went through the request for proposal and got to hear from the private sector that would be operating the system.” He added, “Making a decision before then is a true disappointment but high speed rail is not dead forever.”
Fields said that HSR does have a chance in Florida because we need to grow smartly and provide for the people and businesses in this state. “Someone else in the country is going to show how high speed rail will work in their community and I guess then we will strongly consider it in Florida,” Fields said.