Pick Me! Pick Me! Vying for Unclaimed High-Speed Rail Funds

March 3, 2011 | By Liza Casabona | Post a Comment

A tug of war over federal funds for high-speed rail projects has developed in recent weeks since Florida’s Republican Governor Rick Scott rejected $2.4 billion that was allotted by President Obama for a high-speed rail project that would have connected Orlando and Tampa.

In response to Scott’s rejection of the funds, hands flew up all along the Eastern seaboard volunteering to happily accept the money.

Ten northeast senators sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Feb. 25 offering to put the funds to use in their districts.

“In light of the State of Florida’s decision to reject $2.4 billion in High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program funds, we urge you to reprogram these funds to projects on the Northeast Corridor,” the senators wrote.

And they aren’t the only ones. Just a week before the senators sent their missive, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley sent one stating his willingness to accept the orphaned funds and outlining precisely how he would use them. Two days before that, two California senators also offered to put the money to good use.

In his Feb. 16 refusal, Scott said he could not put his state on the hook for potential overrun costs in the current fiscal climate and did not think the project was a necessary investment.

Even after the Obama administration gave Scott a very public chance last week to reconsider, he stuck to his guns, calling high-speed rail projects a “federal boondoggle.” And the fight isn’t over yet.  Two Florida state senators filed a lawsuit against the governor alleging that he doesn’t have the authority to give the money back.

Obama has made investing in high-speed rail a top priority for his administration, pledging to spend $53 billion in the next six years and $8 billion this year.

But if the tug of war over federal funding for the projects indicates anything, it’s that Obama’s enthusiasm isn’t necessarily matched at the state level. Scott wasn’t the first governor to reject high-speed rail funds, joining other Republicans who have also said no to proffered money. Ohio Governor John Kasich and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker recently turned down money for high-speed projects in their states and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie turned up his nose at $3 billion last year.

With federal dollars for any project in high demand these days, Scott’s refusal is just the latest example of building tension not only between the two parties but between states and the federal government over priorities.

Are the naysayers right in saying that the high-speed rail funds would be a waste? Or is this just another partisan spending debate? How else could the billions be spent?

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