ORLANDO – It’s a project that could help transform Central Florida’s economy, bringing thousands of badly needed construction jobs to the area, while relieving traffic congestion on Ilocal highways and creating a network of alternative transportation options …

No, it’s a costly and wasteful boondoggle, one that will saddle Florida taxpayers with expensive long term maintenance costs that the state can’t afford, all for a train that nobody will bother riding …

As 2011 starts, the debate over a high speed bullet train from Cocoa Beach to Orlando and then on to Tampa rages on, and it’s going to be up to new Gov. Rick Scott to make the final decision on the project.  Scot was a skeptic of the high speed rail system during his gubernatorial campaign last year, and his political supporters are counting on the governor to kill a project they view as costing far too much money, while offering too little in the way of a payback.

“We do not want him to be endorsing the rail program,” said Peg Dunmire, chairman of the Florida Tea Party, which endorsed Scott in last year’s Republican primary.  Scott, a South Florida businessman, defeated former state Attorney General Bill McCollum in the August 2010 primary.

Peg Dunmire, chairman of the Florida Tea Party, thinks most people want the freedom their cars offer, and won't ride a high speed train.

Doug Guetzloe, host of The Guetzloe Report radio talk show and a longtime critic of the train, said the governor may have no choice but to kill the high speed rail project, since the state is facing a huge budget deficit due to declining tax revenues.

“Scott’s got an estimated $3.5 billion budget deficit in this fiscal year,” Guetzloe said.  “He’s either got to cut spending or raise revenues, that’s all you can do.”

Since the governor has pledged not to raise taxes and to look for ways to cut them further to help spur the economy, Guetzloe said that means steep cuts in state spending.

“Our Constitution requires a balanced budget,” he said.   “Where do you get the money without raising taxes? He says he won’t raise taxes, but those are very serious cuts. He could start by turning down money for rail.”

In 2009, the Obama administration signed on to the construction of a high speed line between Orlando and Tampa, using funding from the federal stimulus bill. After announcing the administration’s support for the project, the Federal Railroad Administration granted Florida $1.25 billion to help build the train route.

But critics say Florida will still have to fund the rest of the construction costs, along with the long term maintenance bill as well.

“There’s no source of funding for the operating costs,” Dunmire said.  “And we’re getting this money from the federal government – which doesn’t have the money to begin with.”

Dunmire and Guetzloe noted that last November, voters in Osceola, Polk and Hillsborough counties voted down ballot referendums that would have raised taxes to pay for road building projects or new or expanded public transportation systems.  While those votes could simply be viewed as an anti-tax message, Dunmire said, it also signals skepticism about people giving up their cars to take a train on a fixed route to their jobs, health care providers or shopping needs.

“It’s the wrong technology,” she said.  “Americans like their cars.  We like to decide when to go, and where.”

But the project’s supporters think Scott will ultimately get behind it.

Paul Senft, director of the Economic Development Council in Haines City and a strong supporter of the high speed train, said new Republican governors in Wisconsin and Ohio came to the Sunshine State’s rescue by turning down federal money for rail projects.  That freed up more than a billion dollars in federal stimulus money, and shortly afterwards, the White House diverted another $342 million to Florida.

Paul Senft, Haines City's economic development director, thinks cities across Central Florida can boost their economic prospects if residents have easy access to a commuter train.

“The fact that some other states reejected the funds and Florida picked up a tremendous amount of extra money, that helped a lot because the local investment became smaller,” Senft said. “The construction cost has become smaller and smaller as the federal government has given us more and more money. I think we’ll be in good shape on the high speed rail.”

Senft has been supporting the rail line because it would include stops at Walt Disney World, about 20 minutes from Haines City, and in Lakeland, the largest city in Polk County.  He believes communities like Haines City can sell themselves to businesses interested in relocating to the region by reminding employers of the easy access workers would have to rail.

“There’s not any regions in the world that are truly economic regions that don’t have mass transit,” Senft said.  “It will help us, image-wise, and with higher wage jobs.”

But Guetzloe countered that the high speed train will ultimately cost the state far more in the long run than the federal investment suggests, and he said Scott risks burdening the state with a massive long term price tag if he signs on to the project. 

Doug Guetzloe thinks Gov. Rick Scott needs to stick to his opposition to a high speed train from Orlando to Tampa.

“It’s an unfunded liability,” Guetzloe said.  “We don’t have $17.6 billion in the next 20 years to operate the train. I think he (Scott) will be hard pressed to flip on that one.”

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  1. The real tea party groups are opposed to the proposed rail program. They don’t need the fake third party, political TEA Party to voice any opinion. The political TEA Party has such a bad reputation that comments from them only lead uninformed people to question any opposition, in this case opposition to the proposed rail projects. They may not know the specifics of the rail issue but they do know that the political TEA Party got it’s name by hijacking it from the real tea party movement, the hijackers are Fred O’Neil an income tax cheat and Doug Guetzloe a political consultant who is forever at the brink of illegality. Combine them with their unprincipled party chairman Peg Dunmire and you have a group that is suspect in anything they say or do. Bottom line, as they proved during the last elections they just can’t be trusted.

  2. Who is Richard Riker? Doug Guezloe has led the battle against rail for over 15 years. Doug’s no johnny-come-lately to this battle.
    If the Florida Tea Party is opposed and Guetzloe is opposed, given their close association with Rick Scott, it should go down.
    The worthless little tea party people, led by Everett Wilkinson, where all opposing Scott when Dunmire, O’Neal and Guetzloe were endorsing him.
    Richard Riker – get a life.

    1. You might not know who I am but Doug Guetzloe is well known as a man who tiptoes around the edge of whats legal and whats not, a man who lives his life on technicalities, such as his legal action to get him out of his criminal conviction of last year. A person at the edge of illegal acts has already crossed the area of impropriety . This is a man wearing the mask of championing the people but in reality is only looking after himself for his own monetary gain. This is a man who represents a fake tea party, this is a man who can not be trusted.

      1. Instead of slandering an honest man who is a hero to the people please offer any evidence of what you allege.
        All of us are very familiar with the free speech battle that Doug has been engaged in by the vicious corrupt state attorney Lamar and people are very supportive of that free speech battle.
        Of course it’s a legal battle, how else does one defend himself against spurrious charges leveled by a liberal Democrat?
        Guetzloe’s activities in support of free speech and on behalf of the taxpayers with Ax the Tax is legendary.
        What exactly have you done to save taxpayers over $50 billion in unnecessary taxes?

        1. Oh, I get it the name ax taxer is just another nom de plume for Doug Guetzloe. You must be Doug because no one else, other than Fred or Peg, would stick up for him. I know you’ll deny it but most of us know you, Doug, love to write under fake names, how fitting the person who controls the fake tea party writing under a fake name.

          1. The only laws Doug Guetzloe might be “tip-toeing” on are laws that defy the principles of this country, free speech, right to assembly etc… you know, the Constitution? You may not have heard of it but it’s a nice read if you ever want to learn what it takes to make a difference to help others instead of spending your time trying to condemn somebody over blog comments. It seems by your constant appearance on threads that even mention his name that you have a personal vendetta against Guetzloe or something. You never back your arguments, he has never served a day in jail. I think you have some sort of professional jealousy towards him because he is good at his job and there is nothing you can do about it. However this is only speculation from what I’ve read, so please, if you don’t have anything new to add to your groundless accusations stop posting them.

  3. Richard, attacking other citizens will not stop the train. If you have something valid to contribute, like an advertising campaign to counter the mis-information perpetrated by our own government leaders in the pockets of special interests, then pony up. Otherwise, make some legitmate comment about mass transit, or make like a tree and leave.

  4. Kevin is right! If Richard spent half the time he spends attacking Doug, actually doing something to stop the rail projects, we would be making a real difference. What is that guy’s obsession with Doug Guetzloe?

  5. If Richard Riker is against rail, and Doug Guetzloe is against rail, why doesn’t he just shut his damn trap already?! Focus on the issue Rich.

  6. What are we talking about this for? We need to get businesses to spend money, and hire people. That’s not going to happen with this rail boondoggle.

  7. Guetzloe is one of the only people in Florida that has been against rail from the very start. I’d want him on my team in this fight.

  8. We don’t need to spend Billions of dollars on a system that has no hope of getting enough riders. Rick Scott understands that, and hopefully he sticks to his guns.

  9. Why don’t they try to make it easier to use our cars? People move using the mode of transportation they like most, which is the car! If you want to find more ways to move people, find ways to make car travel easier and cheaper.

  10. Well, we can thank God we have people like the Florida Tea Party around to lead the fight over this monstrosity of a program.

  11. Well, I know Doug Guetzloe will never rest until this thing is defeated. Knowing that let’s me sleep a little easier.

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