POINCIANA – Jeanette Coughnenour was closely following the debate over SunRail. When Gov. Rick Scott finally approved the commuter rail line last Friday, she was overjoyed.
What Coughenour envisions is the possibility of the train bringing jobs, and better job opportunities, to a community that got absolutely battered by the crash of the housing market. Coughenour is the manager of the Association of Poinciana Villages, the homeowners association for the community of 70,000 residents that cuts across Polk and Osceola counties. And just as the community rode an economic wave when the housing market was on fire and new homes were getting built there at a rapid pace, they also suffered badly when the market crashed, leaving Poinciana with a sky high home foreclosure rate and too many unsold homes.
SunRail, she said, could attract more businesses to the Poinciana Industrial Park, the final stop in the 61-mile rail line.
“Jobs is a key,” Coughenour said. “It’s touted as being able to produce jobs and bring jobs. The jobs is an important element.”
Doug Guetzloe doesn’t see jobs in the future, but waste. He believes few if any people will ride the train that will run from Debary to downtown Orlando, and then on to Osceola County, because people will prefer using their cars. He now thinks Scott’s decision was a betrayal of his pledge to guard the state against government waste.
“The power to delay is the power to stop,” Guetzloe said. “No one challenged Governor Scott’s power as governor to stop and evaluate the boondoggle, and now the governor hides behind a cloak of legalistic double-speak. Rick Scott has abandoned the taxpayers of Florida and the taxpayers will respond in kind. He’s fired as an advocate for taxpayers.”
Guetzloe is the host of the daily radio show The Guetzloe Report and the founder of Ax the Tax, the anti-tax grass roots organization.
On the day before Scott announced he was giving a green light to SunRail, Guetzloe called on the governor to let voters decide if they want to spend billions on this rail line, and if they also wanted to cover the long term maintenance costs of operating the system.
“The cost to taxpayers is well in the billions and billions with no end in sight for this train from nowhere to nowhere,” Guetzloe said. “If Governor Scott approves this boondoggle absent any voter approval, he’ll seal his fate with conservative anti-tax voters in Florida. Quite frankly, we’re the only ones left still supporting the governor. If Rick abandons the conservative voters in Florida, he’s a one-termer.”
The reactions between the two indicate the strong emotions surrounding this issue – supporters with high hopes that SunRail will revitalize an ailing economy in Central Florida, and opponents who see it as another example of wasteful government spending masquerading as economic development.
For Coughenour, having a rail stop at the Poinciana Industrial Park – at the intersection of Poinciana Boulevard and Orange Blossom Trail – will be great for the community. She envisions businesses flocking to the station, bringing more badly-needed jobs to the community.
“It’s long awaited, and boy we need it,” she said. “Everybody needs this, but especially in Poinciana. We’re hurting.”
Coughenour also welcomes SunRail for another reason: it will give Poinciana residents another transportation option in and out of a community far removed from major urban areas.
She noted that Lynx, the regional bus system, “is extremely behind SunRail and approving SunRail, and they’re anxious to hook it up to bus service. I believe it will produce only good results. It also opens up Orlando and areas north of that for our residents to get within striking distance of. To get to I-4 is a jaunt right now, and you have to deal with I-4 at some point — otherwise it’s an all day event, literally. It definitely is good for the residents. It should be great for us.”
No one was quite sure how Scott would react to SunRail, since he had already vetoed the construction of a high speed train from Orlando to Tampa earlier this year, rejecting billions in federal stimulus money to built it. That led to speculation that Scott would veto SunRail as well.
His decision not to, Guetzloe said, would cost the governor crucial political support from conservatives.
In a statement from Ax the Tax, Guetzloe noted that the anti-tax group has “led 17 anti-tax battles in Florida and other states helping taxpayers defeat over $47.5 billion in proposed taxes in 16 successful campaigns. Ax the Tax has never lost a transportation tax battle and has won six, including the most recent battle in Hillsborough County last November where over 58 percent of the voters voted down a proposed light rail commuter system. Ax the Tax raised and spent over $100,000 to help taxpayers defeat that referendum.
“Ax the Tax has led the opposition to rail since 1997 when it helped voters defeat a commuter rail plan in Orange County,” Guetzloe added. “Ax the Tax supporters strongly supported Rick Scott in the GOP primary over rail advocate Bill McCollum and is credited with assisting with the razor-thin victory of Scott over McCollum in last year’s primary.”
Ax the Tax was also the co-founder of the VETOSUNRAIL.ORG online petition effort. This decision, Guetzloe said, would be a costly one for both taxpayers – and Scott’s political future.
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