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Panel OKs train repeal vote

(The Sarasota Herald-Tribune published the following Associated Press article on its website on March 27.)

TALLAHASSEE -- Concerned about the cost of a high-speed rail system, the House Transportation Committee voted Wednesday to make Floridians vote on repealing a constitutional amendment that requires the state to build the network.

The committee voted 12-7 in favor of a resolution that would put a constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2004 allowing voters to decide if they want to repeal the amendment requiring construction of a rail system connecting the state's five largest population centers.

Gov. Jeb Bush has urged repeal of the high-speed rail amendment and another one approved last year that calls for a reduction in public school class size, contending that voters did not understand that they would cost billions of dollars and could force tax increases.

Several of the legislators voting for the repeal of the train requirement said it was different from the class-size amendment because there was little discussion of its potential cost before it was passed in 2000 after having been put on the ballot by a citizens' initiative. In contrast, the class-size amendment was hotly debated last fall and Bush, who was running for re-election, campaigned against it.

Rep. Susan Bucher, D-Lantana, said voters should be given a chance to review the high-speed rail amendment with the benefit of some cost figures.

Rep. Mitch Needelman, R-Melbourne, opposed the bill, saying the Legislature should uphold the constitution as it is.

He said voters could approve another initiative petition to repeal the amendment if they wanted to get rid of it. The sponsor of the repeal, Rep. Bob Allen, R-Merritt Island, said the voters have the right to make an informed decision on the issue.

Allen said the repeal process is a legitimate part of the constitutional process.

"I think as representatives we're not lemmings, we are leaders," Allen said.

Allen said the state has an obligation, however, to continue work on building the rail system until the vote is taken on a repeal. The constitution now requires construction to begin by November 2003. The resolution (HJR 309) now goes to the House Appropriations Committee. A similar bill in the Senate (SJR 1400) has yet to have a committee hearing.

Approval of the resolution will require a three-fifths majority in both chambers.

Thursday, March 27, 2003

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