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Gov. Bush wants bullet train back on ballot

TALLAHASSEE - Gov. Jeb Bush is ready to derail the voter-approved plan to build a high- speed rail system across the state, according to the Tampa Tribune.

Bush told The Economic Club of Florida on Wednesday that unless private businesses carry a big share of the system's economic burden, he will ask the Legislature to put the measure back on the ballot.

``This could have a devastating impact on transportation projects in this state,'' Bush said. ``It would be insane for the state to take the entrepreneurial risk.''

Bids will be opened and considered in February.

One complication facing Bush: Construction must start by November. But voters could not reconsider the measure until 2004.

In 2000, voters surprised lawmakers by approving the plan. The first route would run from Orlando to the Tampa Bay area.

But Bush and others said voters did not fully comprehend the cost, which Bush estimates as ``billions of dollars.''

``People are never wrong on these initiatives if they're fully informed,'' said House Speaker Johnnie Byrd, R-Plant City. ``The people have had four years to think about it, and they've decided it's a boondoggle.''

Disdain for the train is bipartisan in Tallahassee. Sen. Ron Klein, D-Delray Beach, has pushed for two years to put it back on the ballot, hoping voters would dump it.

Bush was criticized late last year for suggesting he had a ``devious plan'' to kill a voter- supported amendment mandating smaller class sizes. The governor suggested to lawmakers in a conversation he believed to be private that he might ask voters to reconsider the class-size measure.

But Klein said asking voters to reconsider the bullet train would not set that precedent.

``There has never been a big constituency for the bullet train; only a few people really pushed it,'' Klein said. ``Millions of people are waiting to see if class sizes are going to shrink.''

Lawmakers privately admit they would have killed the bullet train plan were it not for the politically unpalatable prospect of opposing a voter-approved project. But Bush's support might give lawmakers the cover to push the issue back to the voters.

A $4 billion budget deficit also might make it easier for lawmakers to throw the switch.

But the man who engineered the amendment's success, Lakeland millionaire C.C. ``Doc'' Dockery, said Wednesday that private industries are prepared to take the risks, leaving the state paying for only part of the construction.

That would cost the state about $75 million per year for the next 30 years, Dockery said. That total is about $2.3 billion, or 1.5 percent of the state's transportation budget.

``This will not bankrupt anything,'' Dockery said.

He said lawmakers considering sending the matter back to voters ``would be facing a question of public integrity.''

``They're sworn to uphold the Constitution, and some members believe it would be a breach of faith with the voters to put it back on the ballot,'' Dockery said.

But the crowd of business people applauded Bush when he spoke of reversing the plan.

``I`m not going to fall in love with a fast train,'' Bush said.

Thursday, January 16, 2003

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