APOPKA – When U.S. Rep. Sandy Adams, R-Florida, met with a group of Tea Party activists in Apopka on Saturday, she promised to work on the stubbornly high unemployment rate facing both the nation, at 9 percent, and Florida at an even higher 12 percent rate.
“We are working on legislation to create jobs,” Adams said, including measures to reduce federal regulations on businesses.
But when Adams was asked whether she supports Gov. Rick Scott’s decision to reject $2.4 billion in federal funding to build a high speed train from Orlando to Tampa – with the promise that it could create up to 34,000 jobs across Central Florida — she sidestepped the subject.
“It is a state issue,” Adams said. “It’s up to the state government and the governor.”
Adams did add that if Scott doesn’t reverse his decision, the $2.4 billion shouldn’t go to another state, such as California or New York, for a similar high speed rail project.
“If the money is rejected,” Adams said, “it should go to deficit reduction.”
Gov. Scott’s decision to kill this project has left local Republican lawmakers with a dilemma: at a time when Florida’s unemployment rate remains mired in double digits and the region is hungry for new jobs, they have to answer the question of whether killing this project means killing jobs.
State Rep. Mike Horner, R-St. Cloud, is both a local lawmaker and the president of the Kissimme/Osceola County Chamber of Commerce. When asked about the governor’s decision to kill high speed rail, and with it the possible loss of local jobs, Horner said, “Frankly, this is an issue that’s within the governor’s prevue, and I respect the governor and his decision.”
Not everyone agrees. U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Florida, a longtime supporter of the high speed rail project who helped steer federal dollars to the plan, has suggested a shorter and less costly route that would take travelers around Orlando, with stops at Orlando International Airport and the theme parks, without going as far as Lakeland and Tampa.
Horner said he wasn’t familiar with Mica’s plan and couldn’t comment on it.
“If he (Mica) thinks this is not the correct step for the governor to take, that is his decision,” Horner said. “Congressman Mica’s plan is one I have not had an opportunity to review, and I’d have to learn a lot more of the details before I comment on it.”
Not everyone is sold on the argument that a high speed rail system across Central Florida would create jobs, either in the construction phase or long term.
“You can’t quantify it, the number of jobs it would create,” said Rod Reynolds, a Winter Garden businessman and member of the Florida Tea Party. “The contractors to the rail projects, typically being international or national companies, bring their labor with them, and a lot of the higher paying jobs will come with the contractors. The jobs that will be created in Florida will be the lower paying-type jobs like ticket takers and maintenance people.”
Reynolds, a candidate for the Winter Garden city commission in the March 8 municipal election, said supporters of the rail project were exaggerating the economic benefits of this costly project, including projections for job growth.
“They’re inflating them and understating the actual cost,” he said. “Essentially the cost overruns for the projects are pretty significant.”
Reynolds praised Scott for killing a project that he said would saddle this state with long term, and very expensive, maintenance costs.
“I believe that the governor is looking at it with a very reasonable business approach,” Reynolds said. “I feel like if it was a good scenario and workable, the private sector would have already stepped in and began to create a rail service from Tampa to Orlando. The private sector, if it can make money, will fill the gap. The governments tends to get involved in things that are a black hole and continuously require taxpayer money to support it.”
Doug Guetzloe, founder of the anti-tax group Ax the Tax and a longtime critic of the high speed rail, said that on Wednesday, March 16, there will be an Ax the Tax and Florida Taxpayers Union rally in Tallahassee to show support for the governor’s decision to kill the project. As part of that, Guetzloe is distributing “I Love The Guv” bumper stickers to supporters.
The rally will also be an opportunity for critics of the proposed SunRail system – a 61-mile commuter train going from Debary in Volusia County to downtown Orlando and then Poinciana – to urge the governor to dump this project as well.
“This is about all things rail,” Guetzloe said. “We’re opposed to it all.”
He dismissed the project’s supporters as special interests and said the governor’s office needed to know that Floridians back up his decision to protect taxpayers.
“It’s up to us to back up the governor from all the vested interests on the other side,” Guetzloe said.
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