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Fla. panel considers bill to put rail issue before voters again

(The Herald Tribune posted the following Associated Press article by Brent Kallestad on its website on April 22.)

SARASOTA, Fla. -- A Senate panel voted Monday to give voters a chance to reconsider their 2000 decision for a high-speed rail system to serve heavily populated parts of Florida.

The proposal (SJR 1400) by Senate Democratic leader Ron Klein of Boca Raton was approved 5-4 in the Senate Transportation Committee but would need three-fifths support in each chamber of the Legislature to get onto next year's ballot.

"The bullet train effort does nothing to address local transportation needs and will not alleviate the gridlock problems plaguing many parts of Florida," Klein said. "This is a $20 billion boondoggle."

Klein said lawmakers need to help resolve congestion on local roadways and improve existing public transportation before trying to link major cities throughout the state.

Gov. Jeb Bush would also like to see the bullet train proposal go back to voters with a detailed explanation on the costs and possible tax increases needed to pay for it.

In his annual State of the State speech last month, Bush said he wants voters to reconsider constitutional amendments on the fast train concept as well as another passed in 2002 to cap class sizes.

Meanwhile, lawmakers are trying to move ahead to comply with parts of the constitutional amendment to get a fast train on track.

The Senate Transportation Committee voted 7-2 to approve a bill (SB 2140) that would authorize the state to spend $75 million a year for 30 years to build the first phase of the project - a line which would run from Orlando to Tampa.

Proponents say authorizing the spending would send a message to the federal government that the state is serious about building the train and would put it in a good position to obtain federal money to help with the project.

The committee also voted 9-0 for a measure (SB 2034) that exempts the Florida High-Speed Rail Authority, or owner of the high-speed rail system, from paying taxes or assessments on the operation.

Just last week, the Florida High-Speed Rail Authority narrowed two applicants to build the first leg of the bullet train system for an estimated $2 billion.

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

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