Gov. Rick Scott, in a purely political move, rejected federal funding in February for a high-speed rail project connecting Tampa to Orlando.
The project would have created jobs in Florida at little cost to state taxpayers – most of the funding would have come from the federal government’s economic stimulus. In that case, the “Let’s Get to Work” governor failed to deliver.
Yet, Scott approved the Orlando SunRail project Friday. Like the high-speed rail he earlier rejected for Tampa, SunRail is expected to create many jobs, as well as cost taxpayers money. His decision is hypocritical, but will benefit Floridians.
SunRail is a $1.28 billion, 61.5-mile commuter rail project that Orlando-area leaders say will be highly beneficial for the region.
“The immediate benefits resulting from the construction of SunRail include jobs created for Floridians in the transportation and construction industries, two industries that have been hit the hardest by this economic downturn,” said Jose Gonzalez, vice president of governmental affairs for Associated Industries of Florida, to the St. Petersburg Times.
The SunRail project is expensive, but the federal government will cover half of the costs while the state and local governments each cover 25 percent, according to the Times.
Scott had to balance the potential costs involved with his small government ideology. He decided that Florida taxpayers should foot an estimated $615 million for what the Florida Chamber of Commerce stated as a potential $8 billion economic impact.
Scott, however, rejected the high-speed rail line connecting Tampa to Orlando on the basis that it might be too expensive for state taxpayers. Its estimated price tag for the state was about $280 million – $335 million less than the SunRail line. Federal funding would have covered the remaining $2.4 billion price tag.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, a state ridership study of the Tampa-Orlando project concluded that it would be profitable from its first day, and by the 10th year, it would have made $28.5 million more than its operation and maintenance costs.
An estimated 3.3 million people would have ridden the line in its first year, according to the study, helping to alleviate congestion on state roadways.
Since Scott didn’t judge the Tampa-Orlando line on its merits, as its costs to taxpayers were projected as less than the SunRail, it’s clear that his decision to cancel the program was a political rebuke of the Obama administration. Once that political snare was removed when contemplating the SunRail system, he came to a different conclusion.
Scott’s inconsistency is unseemly and shows that he is not concerned with the impacts of his decisions on state citizens, but rather on the political consequences.