BRADENTON, Fla. — Gov. Rick Scott told the Florida Supreme Court in a brief Wednesday that the decision to reject federal funds for high-speed rail rests with him and a petition to overturn his decision has come from “state senators whose policy preferences have not prevailed in the political process.”
The brief was in response to a suit brought Tuesday by Sen. Thad Altman, R-Melbourne, and Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, who are arguing that Scott exceeded his constitutional authority when he told U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood that Florida would not use the funds.
Oral arguments on a request for an emergency ruling are set for 3 p.m. Thursday Eastern Time and can be seen on the web at www.wfsu.org/gavel2gavel/index.php.
A final ruling is expected Friday.
Scott asked the high court to reject the senators’ petition and said that he has “announced, repeatedly and in no uncertain terms, his determination that the high-speed rail project is not wise policy and that it will ultimately prove detrimental to the taxpayers of this state.”
“Fortunately for the taxpayers of Florida, nothing in Florida law compels the governor or the [Florida Rail Enterprise] to pour millions of dollars into a black hole during the historic fiscal crisis with which the state is presently grappling,” Scott said. “The current Legislature and future Legislatures may well see fit to appropriate no further funds to the Tampa-to-Orlando project, especially in light of the governor’s lack of support for the project, whether or not the federal government remains willing to provide additional funds.”
In a reply brief, Altman and Joyner argued that Scott failed to fulfill his required constitutional duty to uphold state law by ignoring the fact that the Legislature already adopted the policy to proceed with high-speed rail and provided funding for it.
“Gov. Scott treads on the legislative branch’s authority to enact fundamental and primary policy decisions that have been articulated through the enactment of the Florida Rail Act when he unilaterally rejects federal funding,” the senators said.
“As the Legislature has previously voted to appropriate $130 million dollars to the building of the high-speed rail system and has passed into law the Florida Rail Act, [Scott] does not have the constitutional authority to post-hoc veto the laws of the state of Florida simply because he does not agree with the laws,” the senators argued.
In his brief, Scott said his position was supported by the president of the Senate, who has aligned with the Republican governor’s view that the high-speed rail project “is a waste of taxpayer money and not worthy of additional funding.”
Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, said late Tuesday that he does not support the petition filed by his colleagues and that the rest of the Senate will not join it.
Haridopolos said funding of the fast-rail project is not something the state or the country can afford, and “it is my intention to ensure that there is no money in the upcoming 2011-12 state budget to fund high-speed rail.”
The Legislature enacted a comprehensive passenger rail law in 2009, partly to make the state more attractive in the competition for federal stimulus funding, and set aside funding for the operation of the new Florida Rail Enterprise agency and an oversight commission.
More than $27 million spent since then on the Tampa-to-Orlando project has been from portions of the $2.4 billion of federal funds granted to the state.
A $280 million funding gap to complete the project was expected to be covered by a private developer or consortium that would design, build, finance, maintain and operate it.
In early January, Haridopolos said he supported moving ahead with high-speed rail if a developer would ante up the $280 million. However, he changed his mind when Scott announced his position. Haridopolos is running for the seat held by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., who is an ardent supporter of the rail project.
A partnership of four Florida cities has come forward offering to take over the project, but Scott has rejected federal funds for it twice, though he has been told by federal transportation officials, in person and in writing, that the state and the local governments will not be responsible for reimbursing the government if the project fails.
A Feb. 24 Harris poll found that “more than two-thirds of Florida residents [polled] support state and federal funding of high-speed rail.”
The complete nationwide Harris poll of 2,566 adults found that 64% somewhat or strongly support using state funding for high-speed rail and 62% support the use of federal funds.