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Bullet train opponents will hire firm to help place issue on ballot

(The following story by Beth P. Krane appeared on the Sun Sentinel website on March 9.)

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. -- Local supporters of a campaign to stop the statewide bullet train said Monday they plan to hire a company to help collect the signatures needed to get the issue on the ballot in November.

In 2002, members of Derail the Bullet Train, a political action committee based west of Boca Raton, pushed for a referendum to repeal the high-speed rail amendment passed by voters in 2000. The group collected about 80,000 signatures, mostly from Palm Beach County residents, but it needs 489,000 signatures from at least 12 congressional districts. It has until July 15 to make the Nov. 2 ballot.

David Goodstein, chairman of the group, said his goal this time is to get at least 50,000 signatures from three congressional districts by April 1, because that would trigger an early review by the state Supreme Court. Goodstein hopes to hire a professional petition circulator two weeks, he said. His group's members would canvas Palm Beach County, leaving the rest of the state to professionals, he said.

"If you're going to do it statewide, you need to go with a professional company," Goodstein said. "When they got it in the ballot in 2000, they used companies."

Lakeland businessman C.C. Dockery spent $1.5 million to get the bullet-train issue on the ballot in 2000. Goodstein estimates his group would need the same, because circulators charge as much as $2 a signature, he said. He estimates that another $1.5 million would be needed to campaign for the measure once it's on the ballot.

In 2002, the group raised $5,000, but, at a meeting with community activists from southern Palm Beach County on Monday, Goodstein and Palm Beach County Commissioner Burt Aaronson both were optimistic about its ability to raise the needed money.

Last week, Gov. Jeb Bush and state Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher threw their support behind the petition drive. Goodstein and Aaronson said Bush and Gallagher have promised to help raise money.

"I racked my brain for months about how to raise the money to defeat this, but the governor makes 12 phone calls ...," Aaronson said. "We have all the tools we need to make this happen."

Aaronson called the bullet train a boondoggle that will drain money from other state projects and hurt property values along its route. Most estimates place the cost of the bullet train, which would run from Tampa to Orlando and then to South Florida, between $6 billion and $20 billion.

State. Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, wife of C.C. Dockery and one of the Legislature's strongest bullet-train backers, declined to comment Monday.

Tuesday, March 9, 2004

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