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Anti-bullet train groups make final push in Fla.

(The following article by Paul Flemming was posted on the News-Press website on October 21.)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Derail the Bullet Train wants Florida's voters to change their minds. The group, sponsor of Amendment 6 on November's ballot, seeks to repeal the high-speed rail initiative.

Supporters say the high-speed rail's price tag is too high and will come at the cost of other, more important transportation projects.

As it was finally approved — after a Supreme Court challenge by opponents — a financial impact statement will appear on the ballot that says passage of the amendment will save taxpayers $25 billion over 30 years.

A poll conducted at the beginning of October showed 45 percent oppose the amendment, against 39 percent who support the proposal.

"It looks like (the repeal) effort is going nowhere," said Brad Coker, managing director of Mason-Dixon Polling & Research that conducted the Oct. 4 poll.

Supporters of the amendment say failure to include the financial impact statement — as it will appear on the ballot — in the poll question unfairly skewed its results.

"When voters walk into the booth and have our message reinforced by wording that will be in front of them ... that's going to be a tremendous advantage," said Mark Mills, a spokesman for Floridians for Responsible Spending, a group supporting Amendment 6.

The initiative-petition campaign has the support and is led by high-profile elected officials, including Gov. Jeb Bush and Treasurer Tom Gallagher.

Florida's voters approved a statewide amendment creating the high-speed rail initiative in 2000. The first phase of the rail will connect Tampa and Orlando at an estimated cost of more than $2 billion.

Financial backing for Amendment 6 comes from influential interests in the state that won't see a direct benefit from the bullet train: Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc. (owners of Universal Studios and Sea World) and highway construction companies.

Derail the Bullet Train, the amendment's sponsor, has spent $2.07 million through Oct. 8. The organized group opposing the amendment has spent $361,000.

Supporters of the vote four years ago are now leading the charge to defeat Amendment 6. They contend the program is the most cost-effective way to address traffic gridlock in the state.

"We will never be able to pave our way out of the current gridlock," said Ken Walton, executive director of The Rail Truth, a political committee formed to oppose Amendment 6.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

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