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CSX gave to Fla. anti-bullet train drive

(The Associated Press circulated the following story on July 13.)

ORLANDO, Fla. -- A road builders' lobbying organization gave $330,000 of the $1.3 million collected for a petition drive aimed at derailing Florida's bullet train project, according to a campaign finance report filed Monday.

Moving Florida, a political action committee established by the Florida Transportation Builders Association, was the largest contributor to DErail the Bullet Train (DEBT) during the year's second quarter.

"We're the same people that would probably build the bullet train if it were built," FTBA president Bob Burleson said. "Believe it or not, sometimes we try to think of the greater good. If there were a way to pay for high speed rail, we'd be all for it. I just don't think, currently, we can afford to build it; I think we have much more pressing needs."'

Two major central Florida theme parks, bypassed on a planned route that does connect with Walt Disney World, were also major contributors to the kill-the-rail project.

The first leg of the proposed rail network, from Orlando to Tampa, is estimated to cost $2.6 billion, although opponents believe the true price is $6.4 billion.

DEBT spent $1.1 million during the quarter, almost all on its petition drive that would have voters decide whether to repeal the constitutional amendment requiring the state to build the rail line. Floridians approved the amendment four years ago.

The petition needs close to 489,000 valid signatures for the repeal to reach the Nov. 2 ballot. DEBT officials said they have collected more than 600,000 signatures.

"Grass-roots support for the bullet train's repeal has been tremendous," Slater Bayliss, DEBT's executive director, said in a statement. "Voters throughout the state are supporting our grass-roots campaign because they want the opportunity to repeal the bullet train boondoggle and cancel this wasteful mandate."

The Villages, a massive retirement community in central Florida, gave $300,000. Developer Gary Morse is a major fundraiser for the GOP, and Republican Gov. Jeb Bush has ardently opposed bullet trains.

SeaWorld Orlando, which also opposes the high speed rail, gave $250,000. When the route was selected, SeaWorld and Universal Orlando lost out to rival Disney for a stop. The Florida High Speed Rail Authority was swayed by studies showing Disney could offer more riders than the attractions in the International Drive tourist district.

Universal contributed more than $220,000 to DEBT in March.

Contributing a total of $100,000 were three railroad companies: CSX Transportation ($50,000), Florida East Coast Industries ($25,000) and Rail Management Corporation ($25,000).

Also Monday, a Tallahassee judge held a hearing in a lawsuit against the petition drive.

The lawsuit was filed by C.C. "Doc" Dockery, the Lakeland businessman who got the train on the ballet in 2000, and alleges that the signatures aren't invalid because they don't have the names and addresses of the people paid to collect them.

Circuit Judge P. Kevin Davey refused earlier this month to issue a preliminary injunction sought by Dockery, saying he could find no provision in state law that requires such signatures be thrown out.

After listening to attorneys Monday, Davey refused to dismiss the lawsuit, giving Dockery's lawyers the go-ahead to seek documents from the campaign in an effort to prove their allegations.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

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