Florida's Rick Scott is the latest Republican governor to reject federal money for high-speed rail, more evidence that President Obama's push for infrastructure investment, once seen as an area of bipartisan compromise, may be turning increasingly politicized and polarizing.
The $2.4 billion slated for Florida will be rerouted to states willing to put up the matching funds, which in Florida amounted to $280 million. The state had already spent $66 million in preparation for the project, which was to run from Orlando to Tampa.
In a press conference today, as reported by the Orlando Sentinel, Scott criticized Obama's spending priorities. "You don't have to be an economic expert to know when you spend more money than you take in, you will fail," he said. Scott argued that rail ridership estimates are often too optimistic and that the money would be better spent on roads and other infrastructure needs, points echoed by other Republicans.
Scott, who had opposed the plan during his campaign last year, is not the first new Republican governor to renege on plans to build high-speed rail in his state. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Ohio Gov. John Kasich have also said thanks but no thanks to a combined $1.2 billion in federal grants.
One of Walker's central campaign themes last year was his opposition to a planned high-speed rail link from Milwaukee to Madison. He called the program a "boondoggle" in campaign ads and launched a website, NoTrain.com, to protest the plan. One of his first acts upon being sworn in was to reject more than $800 million from the federal government because he said the costs of operating the trains would be a burden on the state.
Kasich similarly attacked a plan for high-speed rail between Cincinnati and Cleveland. During his first press conference after his inauguration, Kasich declared "that train is dead" and "passenger rail is not in Ohio's future." Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols told National Journal, “We consider this matter thoroughly done. This was just a particularly bad idea.”
Other GOP governors have been similarly unenthused about the federal government's efforts to get more Americans aboard trains. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie made headlines last year when he abruptly scrapped longtime plans for a massive commuter-train tunnel under the Hudson River, and he is now battling the federal government's effort to get some of New Jersey's money back.
Congressional Republicans echo the governors' penny-pinching sentiments. The Republican Study Committee, a group of conservative House Republicans, and Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., issued a plan to return federal spending to 2008 levels that included major cuts to rail spending, including a $2.5 billion reduction in intercity and high-speed-rail grants, an end to spending from the stimulus bill (where a good chunk of the remaining $45 billion is aimed at infrastructure investment), and an end to Amtrak's subsidies.
“With Congress spending like there is no tomorrow, running up record deficits, and piling an insurmountable amount of debt on the backs of our children and grandchildren, how can anyone even think of supporting an expensive boondoggle like high-speed rail?" said Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, who heads the Republican Study Committee, in a statement to National Journal.