Business

Rick Scott Ready to Roll With SunRail, Sources Say

Business and political considerations drive Central Florida commuter train
By: Kenric Ward | Posted: May 13, 2011 3:55 AM
Beth Dillaha and Sen. Paula Dockery

Beth Dillaha and Sen. Paula Dockery

Buffeted by business interests and political hardball, Gov. Rick Scott is near a decision to approve the SunRail commuter train project for Central Florida, sources tell Sunshine State News.

After rejecting $2.4 billion in federal stimulus funds and derailing a proposed Tampa-Orlando high-speed train, the governor has reportedly turned around on SunRail, a $1.3 billion line that would serve parts of four counties around Orlando.

State Sen. Paula Dockery said Scott will approve the 61-mile venture for three reasons:

  • "He's not applying the same test" to SunRail that he did to high-speed rail -- cost to state, ridership, maintenance and potential overruns.
  • "He has hired too many former CSX execs who are pushing it."
  • "It's not anti-Obama."

Dockery campaigned for Scott during the GOP primary after abandoning her own gubernatorial bid and served on the governor's transition team. But the Lakeland Republican has diverged on transit issues as she supported high-speed rail and opposed SunRail.

Two other insiders -- a member of the Central Florida Commuter Rail Commission and an elected state official, both of whom declined to be named -- also predict that the governor will green-light the project.

SunRail's critics remain hopeful that Scott will conclude that it, like high-speed rail, is just another out-of-control spending train.

"The voters never approved a funding source for the 99-year term of the project," says Beth Dillaha, who heads Veto SunRail. "Operations and maintenance projections by FDOT are based upon a 50 percent plus fare box revenue, which is highly optimistic."

Dillaha, a former Winter Park city commissioner, said the project railroads taxpayers with ballooning costs and liability issues while rolling over for CSX.

Dockery has asserted that the initial price tag for the 61-mile corridor to the public is "10 times" market value.

"The state will pay $641 million in total compensation (for the CSX tracks) and the state will provide operations and maintenance funding for the first seven years of operation," Dillaha's group reported in a position paper.

The federal role in SunRail funding is somewhat murky.

According to financial agreements for the project, Washington is supposed to commit $300 million -- 50 percent of the up-front capital costs. But only $40 million was in the president's fiscal 2011 budget and $50 million is earmarked for 2012.

That could leave the state's taxpayers -- particularly those taxpayers in Central Florida -- on the hook.

"High-speed rail was President Obama's train. SunRail is the Republicans' train," says Matthew Falconer, an Orlando-based commercial real-estate owner who ran for Orange County mayor last year.

Scott deferred his decision on SunRail until after the 2011 legislative session -- a delay some said was designed to keep the Central Florida Republican delegation in check.

Immediately after the session, Associated Industries of Florida, one of the heavy hitters in the business community, turned up the heat by issuing a statement reiterating its support for SunRail.

Jose Gonzalez, AIF's vice president for governmental affairs, said the train project would create 11,500 jobs.

Jobs -- along with the support of the business community -- top Scott's agenda.

Meanwhile in Washington, House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., has been turning the screws to ensure that SunRail moves forward.

He obtained approval of a "technical corrections bill” exempting SunRail from potentially nettlesome cost-effectiveness criteria in federal regulations, and he has subtly hinted that federal funds for the Port of Miami project could be at risk if Scott fails to approve SunRail.  

Scott has committed $77 million in state funds to dredge the Port of Miami, but that's only about half the total cost. Mica is in a position to make up the difference.

"I get to authorize the project for the deepening at the federal level," the congressman told WMFE Radio last month.

"Right now I’m studying them very closely as the governor is studying the rail project very closely, and I’ll make my decision in June, about the time he makes his decision."

Neither Mica nor Scott was immediately available to comment on the situation.

--

Contact Kenric Ward at kward@sunshinestatenews.com or at (772) 801-5341.

Comments (28)

Jeff L
6:23AM MAY 17TH 2011
When one is broke they stop spending or go bankrupt. The same should be true of the state and federal government.

Unfortunately, bribed politicians in both parties are driving our states and nation into insolvency. I just wish I was a lot older than in my 50's so I did not have to live in future poverty due to the criminals (our elected representatives). The poor children of today that will have to pay for the rest of their lives, and have meager lives.
Mary
10:10AM MAY 25TH 2011
I will be extremely dissapointed as a small business owner if Scott votes for this! What is the point of trying to get our state in fiscal order and having a huge PORKULOUS PROJECT like this! As you can see in the Federal Governments budget-they TAKE jobs from small businesses! We do not need to eat up more tax revenue by hiring workers who are a further pull on Florida's budget. Any common sense business person with a common sense in economics knows this. KEYNESIAN ECONOMICS is a fantasy ideology that is an utter failure! Sure, look at all the "Green Jobs" created by Gov through the stimulus. Wake up! Floridians are being screwed again! Someone is making ALOT of money on this while the taxpayer gets screwed AGAIN!
Robert freeman
6:39PM MAY 13TH 2011
If the Governor wants the credit for these construction jobs, let it now be christened...
"THE SCOTT CHOO CHOO " after him. It would have made more sense if the two trains would have connected, and we would have received 2.5 Billion. I will switch from the Republican Party if he OK's Sunrail.
Chris M
1:33PM MAY 15TH 2011
It is TRULY amazing the amount of limited progressive thinking I'm seeing here. What do you people want for Central FL, another Atlanta? Getting rid of HSR in FL was a smart move by Gov Scott....and Im a Republican for the most part. HSR as it was planned was nothing but a dog and pony show for the rest of the nation in HSR. It would have served no one and the ONLY reason HSR works up north is because it connects cities directly in their downtowns....as well as multiple cities together. HSR in FL wasnt set up for this.
While I know for a fact CSX is getting a sweetheart deal with this, keep in mind folks that CSX has said (and is being scrutinized for) that the money received in the deal will be spent on their infrastructure right here in FL.....which will cont to keep many Floridians happily employed....as well as work on conjunction with our expanded ports and keep the fluidity of market traffic flowing through our state.
Because FL has so many close cities that are tourist spots, it makes no sense to have any HSR located in FL, especially if it doesnt connect to an already established nationwide highspeed network. FL needs frequent intercity trains running in and out of FL, bringing tourists in and out of the state, with commuter trains serving the main tourist traps with frequent service.
As fuel costs continue to rise, and the populations of our state rise too, you simply CAN NOT keep building roads and/or extra lanes to handle the traffic. That doesnt fix nothing. You've got to get people off the roads altogether. Wake up and check the rest of the nation out...they dont keep their commuter lines around for nothing. It works. Support it now, cause like everything else it will only get more expensive the longer we wait.
HarryA
2:23PM MAY 16TH 2011
You are ill informed my man. Look at the massive taxpayer subsidies that flow to these communter rail projects. None of them are even close to being self sustaining. Itgs a joke to claim that 11,00 jobs will be "created" with a few billion in government spending, and a neverending pot of recurring taxdollars. You want to look at Atlanta, then go ahead and study the history of MARTA. 40 long years later, in a densely populated city that should sustain a train system, the damn thing still needs local sales tax subsidies.

Look no further than Tri Rail to see how Sunrail is going to work. THis is going to be a massive state boondoggle.
Eric
6:10PM MAY 13TH 2011
Shameless pandering to his party....at least now the Tea Partiers will understand what the rest of us already knew. Scott has higher ambitions and plans on using us a stepping stone to get there. Can someone please figure out some way to impeach this guy?
5:42PM MAY 13TH 2011
Governor Scott........

The politicians have made you one of them have they?.........Forget rail is drain on taxpayers......oh and those 12K jobs created......it's OK if they are all Hispanics building it........

Governor..........Say it ain't so......!
Sharon Calvert
3:51PM MAY 13TH 2011
The skepticism and many of the same issues surrounding HSR are the same for SunRail. The cost overruns of at least 40% (over a Billion dollars) will be paid for by all FL taxpayers (split 50/50 with the 4 local jurisdictions). The cost overruns will be paid for by taking road money previously targeted for road improvements.The FDOT made that agreement because they knew there would be huge cost overruns and they wanted to ensure a funding source. This is the first time this type of deal has been made. All FL taxpayers will be on the hook for operating costs for the first 7 years, thereafter, the 4 counties are responsible. However, there is no long term funding source from the 4 counties to sustain operating SunRail. Fares normally only cover about 20% of the operating costs. Thus, there is a real risk that the counties will not be able to cover the operating costs over the long term and because 50% of the capital funds is from the feds, it is almost impossible to back out when it becomes a financial disaster. The state would then be forced to bail out SunRail similar to what we are having to do today with bailing out Tri-Rail for $15 million a year because they took federal dollars to expand services. In addition, we are grossly overpaying CSX for their tracks and we waived all liability to CSX except for willful cause for any accidents that occur. The taxpayers are assuming 100% of the liability which could be a huge liabilty for any accident. Hope that Gov. Scott protects all the FL taxpayers once again and rejects SunRail. Instead of continuing to have transit projects devour billions of taxpayer dollars, let's privatize it! We can no longer afford transporation boondoggles - if it's marketable then let private enterprise provide the service.
Tom Lundy
12:37PM MAY 13TH 2011
These are the same people that tried the same tactic to get HSR passed.
The establishment RINOs in the legislature/RPOF are trying to back Rick Scott into a corner and at the same time weaken his support in the tea party movement.
Relax, calm down.
Rick Scott is not going to approve SunRail.
Robert
1:25PM MAY 13TH 2011
This is a tactic of Paula Dockery. She is the one identified as the source in this article. Did you even read it?
landy
12:12PM MAY 13TH 2011
Tea Party taken for a ride. Suckered, played for fools. I am VERY unhappy.
Dubya
5:46PM MAY 21ST 2011
If you're lucky, Landy, maybe Rick Scott will re-name Sun Rail the Tea Party Express and use it for campaign visits. Maybe he will invite you along for a free ride to make up for your betrayal. I think it would be hypocritical of him to approve the Tea Party train when he wouldn't approve the Obama train. You and your Tea Party friends won't have another shot at putting another Tea Partier in office. It was normal Republicans who were fooled into believing that Mr. Scott was actually a Republican.
Mary
10:18AM MAY 25TH 2011
No dice Dubya since we pay as we go. We do not believe in any pork period and regardless of what party it comes from! Do you understand that the Federal Gov't is FORCING us into Mandatory spending for useless things like a 2 MILLION DOLLAR bike bridge? Oh and by the way, when a tourist comes to visit and falls guess who's liable? Yes Dubya, you, me, our kids and even our grandkids. You are nieve to think that we are absolutely loyal to the Republican party. That truly shows that you have no understanding of what the teaparty's role actually is. We are ALL parties who believe in small government and giving rights back to the state's who are much better at controlling their spending and deciding what we truly want. That was the idea in the Constitution by the way. We were severly warned by our Founding Fathers about debt. A famous Jefferson quote is: Do not allow your government to "enslave" you with perpetual debt! Mmmmm, seems they were ALOT wiser than what we are experiencing right now!
Dubya
10:00PM JUL 27TH 2011
Oh Mary- Looks like Landy got her train after all. I have perfect understanding of what Tea Partiers are. I know you aren't really Republicans- and now Republicans know that too. If you are so big on not taking government money, then don't take Medicare. Oh wait, you probably already are. I understand that Jefferson wanted to have revolution every decade or so. I believe that Jefferson died bankrupt. The website http://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/debt tells about Thomas Jefferson's chronic debt and how his estate was sold when he died to pay off his debts. If you want to go back and live in the 1700's, do like the Amish and deny yourself electricity, motorized vehicles, and other modern conveniences. By the way, it's spelled "naive", not "nieve" and "severely", not "severly." You must've been home schooled. Many people like bikes. It helps them reduce stress and cuts down on the carbon footprint. We also spend millions of dollars on roadways when we could all be riding the train or riding a bike. The bike was invented in 1817, so that's getting closer to your time period, Mary. I think you should be more supportive of bicycles.
landy
11:56AM MAY 13TH 2011
We already have discused this and decide Scott is done if he goes along with this. We alone put him in and we will find a real small government coservative to replace him if this is true. I hope it's not because right now I feel betrayed.
Lee Oolong
10:36PM JUL 27TH 2011
Only he who has traveled the train knows where the tea runs blackest.
T. Green
10:37PM JUL 27TH 2011
What????
Sir Thomas Lipton
10:16PM JUL 27TH 2011
Pip-pip and cheerio on your new train, Landy! You must be so proud! Here's to less government and more tea!
Earl Grey
10:10PM JUL 27TH 2011
Oh Landy,
Your dream has come true- your new Lionel train will be arriving shortly. I can only hope it has a tea car. You alone can vote Rick Scott out of office. Please do so.
RepublicanConscience
6:43AM MAY 13TH 2011
If Scott goes along with it, his credibility will take a hit. Once you sellout, it will be easier the next time so he better think long and hard before crossing the line. Selling-out is habitual. We elected a leader and leaders don't sellout. Rail transportation has gone the way of 8-track tapes, typewriters, and slide rules. Those items are practically extinct and not being produced any more, but rail transportation is "government" and even the worst, stupid, idiotic government program seems to have "Eternal Life." Can anyone point out a rail system that is not subsidized by the government and running at a profit?
Robert
1:27PM MAY 13TH 2011
I'm pretty sure Warren Buffet's rail system makes a profit.
landy
12:02PM MAY 13TH 2011
A hit????? Kidding right? Try completely shot, gone, done, over.....
pashka105
9:13AM MAY 13TH 2011
why don't you point out ANY transportation system which is not subsidized by some form of government then your idiotic diatribe might be worth discussing.
5:47PM MAY 13TH 2011
Diatribe......and you spelled it correctly......time to fast forward to 2011......in case you have not been out of the library for awhile times are rough.....

The idea of "well this is always been the way" is dated.......please catch up and leave the diatribe and any other tribes you hang with at home.
pashka105
9:12AM MAY 13TH 2011
why don't you point out ANY transportation system which is not subsidized by some form of government then your idiotic diatribe might be worth disussing.
Railroaded
5:10AM MAY 13TH 2011
Looks like Rep. Mica is participating in political blackmail. Just think they called Scott the crook.

As far as Paula Dockery is concerned, she lost all creditability when I saw the land holdings of those who would stand to benefit from the HSR.
josey
6:06AM MAY 13TH 2011
Well, someone usually benefits when land is bought.
HSR would have been beneficial to Florida - but Scott stacked his administration with CSX officials and the rest is history.
But don't worry - 15 other states received Florida's HSR funding.
Even Iowa!
Sundy
1:31PM MAY 13TH 2011
Were not worried, Iowa is.

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