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Fla. high court approves ballot pricetag for train measure

(The Associated Press circulated the following article on August 19.)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Ballot language advising voters the state could save billions if they reversed their position on the state's high-speed train project was approved Wednesday by the Florida Supreme Court.

The brief order was unanimous.

The state's high court had rejected an earlier version of the statement, which estimated the money that could be saved if the train was repealed could add up to $51 billion over 30 years.

Last week, state analysts responsible for drafting the statement revised it, cutting the estimated savings in half.

As it stands now, voters on Election Day will read a statement advising them that a repeal of the high-speed train would save the state an estimated $20 billion to $25 billion over three decades.

Voters in 2000 approved a ballot measure to build a high-speed train linking the state's five major urban areas, but the ballot measure did not carry an estimate of the cost.

On Nov. 2, they'll face another ballot measure, championed by Gov. Jeb Bush, to repeal the project, this time with a cost estimate. Bush argues the state cannot afford the train.

Under state law passed after 2000, a panel of analysts who work for the Legislature and the governor estimates the financial impact that citizen initiatives will have on state and local government.

The difference between the two forecasts was one of size. The first estimate figured a "statewide" system of some 1,200 miles. The new version assumes a system just short of 500 miles.

The 2000 ballot measure only required a system that links the state's five main urban areas.

As implemented by state lawmakers and managed by a high speed rail authority, the first phase of the project will run from Orlando to Tampa-St. Petersburg.

The state would commit $75 million a year for the first leg of the train under the plan prepared by Fluor Bombardier, the company selected to design, build and operate the train.

The second leg, in the planning stages, goes down to Miami.

The cost estimate approved Wednesday assumes another leg would be extended up to Jacksonville and the last leg down to the Sarasota-Bradenton area.

Chief Financial Office Tom Gallagher, who headed the repeal petition drive this summer, said he welcomed the court's decision and called devoting $25 billion over 30 years to high-speed rail "irresponsible and wasteful."

Supporters of high-speed rail argue the project will be a moneymaker for the state in the long run. Keith Lee Rupp, the head of a group that supports high speed rail, said he was disappointed the statement was approved for the ballot.

"We think there were a number of factors that were left out," said Rupp, president of the Florida Transportation Association.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

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