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Senators Against “King” Scott Face Off at Florida Supreme Court Over High-Speed Rail

| March 3, 2011

Thad Altman, left, a Republican senator, and Arthenia Joyner, a Democrat, are attempting to stop Gov. Rick Scott from refusing $2.4 billion in federal money to build a high-speed rail line. (Florida House and Florida Agenda)

The state’s high court will hear arguments today at 3 p.m. over whether Gov. Rick Scott had the right to tell the U.S. Department of Transportation no thanks to $2.4 billion in federal dollars for a high speed rail line.

The arguments, two days after two state senators – one from each party – filed a lawsuit against the governor, set the stage for the first legal showdown between the new governor and the Legislature, which has jousted with Scott on a couple of issues.

Sens. Thad Altman, R-Viera, and Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, asked the state’s high court Tuesday to block the governor’s decision to scuttle a state plan to build a high speed rail line between Orlando and Tampa, nearly a year after former Gov. Charlie Crist accepted the money on behalf of the state and state officials began to plan how to use the money.

The two senators argued that the governor does not have the legal authority to unilaterally reject the money because the Legislature has already appropriated some of it, which was signed off on by Crist.

But Scott struck back in a legal response filed with the court Wednesday, saying that the two lawmakers filed the suit because their policy view had not prevailed.

“Governor Scott has announced, repeatedly and in no uncertain terms, his determination that the high-speed rail project is not wise policy and that it will ultimately prove detrimental to the taxpayers of this state,” his lawyers wrote in their brief. “This is a decision, by virtue of his election and his constitutional authority, that the governor is entitled to make.”

Scott’s lawyers also contended that for the court to side with Altman and Joyner, the justices would have to order the Legislature to specifically appropriate the remaining funds and order the governor not to veto the legislation.

“It goes without saying that such an unprecedented order would render the separation-of-powers doctrine utterly meaningless,” the brief said.

Altman and Joyner countered in a response brief that the governor’s office had “set up a fake argument just in order to tear it down.” The two said at a press conference Tuesday that the governor, in rejecting the money, was essentially violating the separation of powers. Joyner said he was acting like a “king” in overriding the Legislature’s wishes.

“In the present case, the Legislature expressly set forth in the Florida Rail Act the public policy of this state regarding high speed rail,” their lawyer wrote in the argument filed with the court. Scott “has, by his own admission in his response, admitted that he does not intend to comply with the procedures and directives of the Florida Rail Act.”

Not all lawmakers have been supportive of the high speed rail initiative. Senate President Mike Haridopolos, who initially supported the project, backed down following Scott’s election because the federal cash only covered about 90 percent of the estimated cost of the project.

He said in a statement following the filing of the lawsuit Tuesday that the full Senate would not join the lawsuit and reiterated his concerns with the cost of the train.

A Supreme Court decision in favor of Altman and Joyner may not be enough to keep the money in Florida though. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson has asked U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to give the court time to deliberate the lawsuit, but LaHood is under pressure from other states to shift the cash to other rail projects around the country. New York and California, in particular, are likely candidates to receive the money for their rail projects, though several New England senators have said that the money could also be used to improve existing rail lines in those states.

And Scott, in a television interview Wednesday in New York, said he hasn’t been convinced that there’s anyway backers of the train can build it without the state somehow being involved.

“They’ve not shown me anything that leads me to believe that we’re not still on the hook,” Scott said in the interview with CNBC.

–Kathleen Haughney, News Service of Florida

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17 Responses for “Senators Against “King” Scott Face Off at Florida Supreme Court Over High-Speed Rail”

  1. Uh Huh says:

    Scott is towing the party line on this. He’s the puppet. Though there’s no doubt Scott personally and
    politically opposes the rail, the pressure to oppose originates from Rubio in DC. Even if Scott wanted the rail he would get a fight from Rubio in DC, and a fight between those peas in a pod isn’t going to happen. Here’s the video where Rubio states his position. If Rubio can help it, Rubio will not allow that many federal transportation dollars into Florida. Rubio’s comments are toward the end of this YouTube video. BTW, nice Rolls Royce in the background. Fitting background for Rubio and his ilk. That just about sums it up.

  2. Mike says:

    “King” Scott? More like a Joker. With how he is underfunding public education, he may want to get used to the court room appearances. He has a constitutional obligation that he is not fulfilling by not properly funding education in the state of Florida. Keep those lawyers handy, joker.

  3. dlf says:

    Don’t back down Scott, keep the railway to no where off the tax payers back. What we will spend to support Am Track 2 should go to education. No one is going to ride this train to no where more than once, who will pay the cost of maintaining and supporting the people who get the government appointed jobs? The everyday tax payer will be standing there in 7 years or less wondering who came up with this brainless project. By that time all the cronies who made their millions will be gone.

  4. w.ryan says:

    dlf…I question comments such as yours because it doesn’t make sense! Why do people who tote the Tea Party line continue to vote against their own interest? Don’t you understand that this decision only benefits the oil mavericks! Leave the politics and the Parties out of it! Time to invest in America!

  5. kevin says:

    Uh Huh: that was a decent video but I just wanted to comment on the comment about “Rubio and his ilk.” I have found him to be sincere in his words and be of solid moral fiber with good ethics. I think you show yourself to be laking objectivity and fairness when you make a comment like especially because a cheap, late model Rolls Royce sits in the background of a shot taken in S. Florida where cars like that are a dime a dozen. Actually its a very affordable care that probably doesn’t cost more the $20k in good condition because its that old and unwanted.

  6. kevin says:

    W.ryan: If worn out political clichés are the motivation for committing to high speed rail then that isn’t my idea of doing one’s due diligence before investing. That project needs to be scrapped for the litany of reasons that have been well stated by thoughtful, technically trained, experts on the matter. It will be nothing more than a costly burden to the public here in Florida. It will not have any of the benefits the project builders and their lobbyists are trying to portray it as having. We have many more important things to be concerned about first and that should be of higher priority no matter how much you dislike Rick Scott, whom I don’t trust as far as I could throw Skeletor (my loving name for him).

    Wise up and look at the number of recent government/private partnerships like this that are on a gigantic scale and look at their end product. Their risks and costs end up being not worth it and then become another financial cancer that enslaves the taxpayers of that region. Wake up! No more low priority risky spending. We need money for our schools and teachers folks!!!!!!!!!
    Let’s get private business up and running, which can create more jobs and get our economy going. Here in Florida with our incredible resources of people, places, and things, we should be an agar nutrient for new businesses to want to come to and grow but its not happening. We need to address that issue and high speed rail IS NOT GOING TO HELP A TINY SHORT TERM AMOUNT. It will be a wet-dream for the socialists who seek to bleed the private worker further so to “create jobs” for a business that will not draw the revenues needed. Most people interviewed said they wouldn’t take it because it would add too much effort to their journey along with additional costs.

    Think it through and join the stand against high speed rail! Analyzing the studies and facts against the project WILL change your mind. Don’t be simplistic in your analysis. Unfortunately, for those who dislike Rick Scott, he is doing the right thing on this one. Have a good day.

  7. PC MAN says:

    Has anyone noticed Rick Scott looks like bat-boy from the Weekly World News ?

  8. Outsider says:

    Two and half billion dollars to serve a few people who want to travel between Tampa and Florida? What do they do when they get there? Rent a car? I bet we could use that 2.5 billion dollars of Monopoly money and rebuild most of the highways of the state, benefitting a FAR greater percentage of the population than the less than 1% who will use that train. Yeah, yeah, I know China has one; they also have more of our money than we have. Reality sucks.

  9. Rob says:

    W. Ryan you are one of the few who get it.

    On the one hand the people who are crying the blues over increasingly higher fuel prices are the same ones who don’t want to mitigate dependence on fossil fuels. They are against most mass transit initiatives but they want to continue to drill for oil in the gulf and off of the east coast of Florida.

    It sounds a lot like the drill baby drill mantra that we heard somewhere before.

  10. William says:

    I’m on the fence regarding the high-speed rail project. The point of this issue isn’t so much the rail project as it is skeletor’s overreach. Last I checked, we’re still living in a republic which, by definition, means rule of law. If you’re going to govern, it must be within the framework of the law, not by executive fiat.

  11. LivingInReality says:

    Building the rail system is a necessity. i would allow people to living in orlando or tampa and work in the other city. Look how much time people spend on the trains in the north east, people live an hour or more from their offices. The high speed rail can put people to work. I for one would use the rail system. The plans for it would eventual allow travel to all of the major cities of florida. If i don’t have to drive to get somewhere and I could better use that time with my family while traveling or even working then that would be great.

  12. dlf says:

    w,.ryan I don’t think Exon ,BP or Shell are worried about the the 50-100 people who MAY use the train ti know where. This is just another program by our government,to spend and waste money. This money would be better spent on schools, roads or anything that will not be a tax burden in 7-10 years. Do you plan on riding the train to no where, I know I don’t

  13. Outsider says:

    William, the President has created an entire shadow government under the auspices of multitudes of “czars.” I wonder if that is within the framework of the law…….

  14. Val Jaffee says:

    So we don’t need the rails, but we need more highways and roads to drive what on? The price of gas is skyrocketing, gas/oil is a non renewable resource, emerging economies are competing for what’s left of it.
    As manufacturing and transportation costs increase, so too will the cost of goods, yet wages remain stagnant.

    Working from home is only viable for jobs that can operate this way.

    So what’s the solution? Taxpayers are hurting either way – the question is – which is less costly ? Gov’t subsidized transportation, or taxpayers bearing the full brunt at the pump/grocery store/utilities etc. . . .

  15. Outsider says:

    Yes Val, others are competing for oil with us, while we let billions of barrels in our own country go untapped. I think you’re a bit premature in declaring the end of the automobile in America.

  16. Val Jaffee says:

    Outsider – I seriously doubt the end of the automobile in America will result from people utilizing the practical benefits of mass transit. It will merely reduce it to a manageable level and hopefully prevent repeats of BP, Exxon Valdez , etc. which has dire consequences on our health, the environment, and the livlihood of those dependent on the sea, tourism, and a healthy ecosystem to survive.

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