Could Rick Scott, who's all about getting people back to work, manage to kill the planned Orlando to Tampa high-speed rail line and the 24,000 jobs it would bring Florida?The answer's yes, if, in the end, the governor-elect cares more about partisan politics than an economic opportunity that anyone with his supposed business savvy would be daft to resist.Regrettably, Mr. Scott's sending signals that to him, politics may well be more important than doing what's clearly in the best interests of Florida. How unfortunate for the state, which needs the stimulative, potentially transformative high-speed line.And how ironic for someone who cast himself as a political outsider in his run for governor.Mr. Scott's continued parsing of the project — it's got to show a return on investment; it can't cost taxpayers, he says — is now imperiling it. State Department of Transportation officials who'll depend on Mr. Scott for their paychecks once he's governor have picked up on his dislike of the project and put off plans to solicit companies to prepare the Interstate-4 median for the high-speed trains.Mr. Scott's tack resembles those of Republican governors in Wisconsin, New Jersey and Ohio, who recently leveled criticism at federally-supported rail projects destined for their states — before they ended up telling Washington they didn't want them.But Mr. Scott surely knows Florida's in a far better position to host a new passenger-rail system than those states, unless six weeks after the election he's still ignorant about one of its biggest infrastructure and economic development projects.Florida's $2.6 billion high-speed project would be paid for almost entirely by the feds. Washington has agreed to send Florida all but $280 million of its cost. And some companies vying to run the trains indicate they'd cover the state's share. They're willing to do that because they believe running the Orlando-Tampa route would give them a leg up on operating a second high-speed rail line from Orlando to Miami — and other fast trains outside Florida.New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said he feared his state would have to pay for costly rail-project overruns. But meetings last month between Florida transportation officials and companies wanting to operate the trains reportedly revealed the companies' willingness to cover any construction overages.Wisconsin Gov.-elect Scott Walker said his state would have had to pay too much to operate and maintain its rail line. But the company that runs high-speed trains in Florida would have to operate and maintain them for 30 years. The state, Florida DOT's Kevin Thibault told us, wouldn't have to pick up the cost.Florida would need 23,000 people to build the rail line, and to find as many as 1,000 workers to operate it. The train would stimulate businesses along the line and help turn Orlando and Tampa into a single market that attracts entrepreneurs eager to reap the benefits of the nation's most advanced transit system.And it would offer commuters and tourists an alternative to an increasingly gridlocked I-4. It also would prove cheaper than the alternative: Building another lane of Interstate 4 — just from Tampa to Lakeland — would cost $3 billion.Why would Rick Scott oppose such a system? Because President Obama's stimulus program, which he savages, underwrites so much of it? Because it has become a badge of honor among conservative governors to reject federally funded rail projects? Because, even though it would better connect Floridians and deliver all those jobs, Mr. Scott thinks opposition would somehow help him among his conservative constituency?We've tried, but we can't think of another reason
This would be an extraordinarily poor move on Florida's part and proof of a merely ideological attack on the concept of passenger rail itself by members of the Republican Party. A guaranteed construction cost, with all overages handled by the companies responsible? Check. An operating franchise that does not require taxpayer subsidy? Check. Limited to no expense to the state of Florida because of hefty Federal grants? Check. What more could anyone want?