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High-speed train may go back to voters

(The following Associated Press article by Brendan Farrington appeared in the Tallahassee Democrat.)

TALLAHASEE, Fla. -- Voters would get a chance to repeal the high-speed rail project they put into the constitution under measures supported by lawmakers who say some people are having second thoughts now that they know how much the train will cost.

Ten state House members took turns Thursday announcing their support for legislation (HB 309) asking voters to repeal the amendment approved in 2000 to build a fast train connecting five Florida cities.

"The voters in my district have been questioning this," said Rep. Bob Allen, R-Merritt Island. "We've come up to the point where we think these questions need to come back to the voters."

Allen and other lawmakers said the state has other priorities in a tight budget year.
The Florida High Speed Rail Authority opened bids earlier this month from four groups hoping to construct the rail network. Depending on the route taken and the contractor selected, the first leg of the project connecting Tampa and Orlando could exceed $4 billion - more than half of which would come out of taxpayers' pockets.

Gov. Jeb Bush has also suggested taking the issue back to voters.

But C.C. "Doc" Dockery, who led the petition drive to get the bullet train on the 2000 ballot, said voters knew the project was going to be expensive and lawmakers should continue moving forward with it.

"There's never been an initiative put back on the ballot for voters to have another say at it," he said.

"How fair is it to the 500,000 people who signed petitions and the many people, including myself, who spent money to get it on the ballot and get it approved to have a bunch of politicians ... put it out there for free and campaign against it on state time and state money?" Dockery asked.

Sen. Ron Klein, D-Delray Beach, is sponsoring a similar bill (SB 1400).

Sen. Jim Sebesta, R-St. Petersburg, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, thinks it's premature to ask voters to repeal high-speed rail, but said he would support a ballot question to delay the project three years.

"We may yet have to go back to the voters and I may yet join that venture, but before we do that I want to be absolutely sure that we can't (build the rail) without bankrupting the state of Florida," Sebesta said.

Friday, February 21, 2003

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